‘She gives them strength in their struggle’

Once Burma’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi has used her newly-found freedom to offer support to the families of more than 2000 detained activists and politicians.

The 65-year-old, who was released from seven years under house arrest on 13 November, yesterday met with around 100 families following a memorial in Rangoon to mark the three-year anniversary of the death of prominent student activist Htay Kywe’s mother.

“She asked about their problems and encouraged them, saying she will meet with them again and solve their problems,” said Phyo Min Thein, the brother-in-law of Htay Kywe, who organised the event.

Suu Kyi had until last month been the world’s only imprisoned Nobel laureate, but that changed following both her release and the awarding of this year’s prize to detained Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Unlike Xiaobo and the majority of Burma’s political prisoners, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest at her lakeside compound in Rangoon. Shortly after her release, she told the BBC that she although she had had to depend heavily on inner resources, she “always felt free”, and that the conditions she had spent 15 of the past 21 years under paled in comparison to life inside a Burmese prison.

The majority of Burma’s 2,203 political prisoners are held in harsh conditions, and struggle to access adequate healthcare. Many are tortured during the interrogation process before being sent to dank and cramped cells, while some are kept in hard labour camps hundreds of miles from their families.

Amongst the 2,200-plus political prisoners are 256 monks, many of whom were rounded up after the September 2007 uprising.

According to Phyo Min Thein, Suu Kyi said that she would work to help those who were imprisoned on religious grounds, and well as to find aid for prisoners in poor health “based on the current policies of the ICRC [International Committee for the Red Cross]”, who withdrew from Burma in 2006 after tight restrictions were placed on their access to political prisoners.

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