Still a Prison

With over 1,700 still in jail, Burma’s political prisoners continue to face injustice. Fifteen political prisoners in Insein jail are on a hunger strike until all political prisoners are provided with the same terms given to criminal prisoners, who are allowed a one-third reduction in their sentences if well behaved. The Assistance Network for Families of Political Prisoners released a statement on this issue urging the UN, the international community, and human rights group to pressure the government to afford the political prisoners with the same rights as other prisoners.

The last time there was a hunger strike in Insein prison (May of this year), prison officials heavily punished the participants: Seven of the 30 inmates on strike in solitary confinement for several days. Prison authorities banned relatives of the hunger strikers from visiting and sending supplies, and eight of the strikers were transferred to holding cells that are used as kennels for the guard dogs. Not surprisingly, the families of the 15 prisoners currently on strike are worried about the health and lives of their loved ones. Reports say that several strikers have been sent to the prison hospital for medical attention and that authorities have even banned their supply of drinking water since the hunger strike began. The hunger strikers, however, are not the only political prisoners dealing with cruelty from prison authorities.

The All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) is calling for the immediate release of U Gambira, a Buddhist monk and a major leader of the Saffron Revolution who has been sentenced for 63 years in prison. According to ABMA, U Gambira has been tortured in many ways, and as a result, his health is in grave condition. Fellow inmates who were recently released from Kalay Prison have related to international human rights organizations that the monk “suffers from fits, in which he frequently cries out in pain and clutches at his head. The prison authorities then have to hold him down to administer a drug via injection, perhaps a sedative, after which he goes quiet and falls unconscious.” Even after he has regained his consciousness, he is unable to communicate properly. A nurse has noted that this could be the result of brain damage sustained after severe beatings. ABMA is requesting for him to receive medical treatment urgently and for international organizations be allowed to check his health.

Nevertheless, injustice is not merely seen by those who remain in jail, but also by those recently released from prison. Venerable U Kawvida, another main leader in the Saffron Revolution, says that he has been followed and closely watched since his release. The Special Branch of Police and Military Intelligence have paid a visit to his monastery and interrogated other monks about Ven. U Kawvida. Since his time in prison, the U Kawvida  has been suffering from diabetes and as a result, has to consult physicians on a regular basis. Despite all of this undeserved punished, Ven. U Kawvida has been continuing his Buddhist monkhood.

Rather than releasing all political prisoners, or even engaging in a genuine dialogue about their future, in an interview with Voice of America (Burmese), Burma’s Foreign Minister, U Wunna Mg Lwin, simply echoed the denials given by regime officials for decades.  He stated “As far as our government, we do not even have such vocabularies as ‘political prisoners’ or ‘prisoners of conscience’.  We do not arrest and imprison people for doing politics in our country”. It is an absurd statement considering that that same week, a group of farmers were detained when they held a protest against land confiscation.


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