Ex-political prisoner dies of cancer

A man sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003, and whose family warned two months ago that he was in the advanced stages of liver cancer, has died at his home in Pegu division.

Zaw Lin Htun was released from Insein prison in Rangoon in the October amnesty following pressure from his family and supporters. They claim that doctors in the prison knew of the 38-year-old’s illness after he was diagnosed on 18 August, but despite several spells in hospital, he remained in prison and continuously struggled to access treatment.

“When he was in Rangoon, doctors predicted that he would only last from three to six months and [upon release] he decided to go back to his home down and die in his mother’s arms,” said a close friend, U Htay, adding that he had refused further treatment after deeming his condition had deteriorated beyond the point of return.

“Since he was suffering from the last stage of cancer, he stopped taking cancer medicine and was only on other medicine to ease the pain. His condition got worse about two days ago and we were informed that he wouldn’t make it so we were just preparing to go [to his hometown of Kyauktaga] and [yesterday] we heard that he had passed,” said U Htay.

Following his sentencing in 2003, after he was found guilty of taking part in an effort to re-establish the outlawed All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), prison doctors diagnosed him with hepatitis B, tuberculosis and kidney disease. Tests later revealed he had cancer.

His family initial request to President Thein Sein in September that he be released was turned down. He was among more than 230 political prisoners released in last month’s amnesty.

An official from the government’s Prison Administration Department admitted last year that there were 109 medical staff assigned to all the prisons, equating to one for every 8,000 inmates. Only 32 of these were fully trained.

Prisoners are often forced to bribe medical staff in order to receive treatment; the majority who cannot have to rely on medicine supplied by visiting family members.

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