Freed prisoners face final hurdle

Freedom remains at a stretch for hundreds of inmates released on Tuesday from Burma’s remote border prisons, with many left stranded hundreds of miles from their homes.

Three political prisoners in the northernmost Putao prison, close to Burma’s frontier with China, were taken by bus on 16 May to Putao town and left there penniless. Nyan Win, spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD), said he had been contacted by the families of Tin Win, Ye Myint and San, to ask for help.

“They were taken to Putao town after being released from the prison,” he said. “They don’t have a penny on them and air travel costs about 90,000 kyat ($US105) for each so they were unable to come home.”

The Burmese government, who billed the controversial amnesty as a “goodwill gesture” to prisoners and their families, appears to have not accommodated the needs of those who saw out their jail terms in far-flung regions.

“It was them [the government] who sent those people to remote places like Putao in the first place so they have a responsibility to at least provide their travel expenses,” Nyan Win said. “But just leaving them like this is not a very nice thing to do.”

The practice of transferring prisoners to remote areas has been widely criticised by rights groups, who claim it amounts to psychological, and indeed physical, torture. The vast distances needed for families to visit their jailed relatives (Putao is more than 1,100 kilometres from Rangoon) means that a prisoner’s main source of medicine and outside contact is largely denied.

Weather conditions in the mountainous regions close to the China border also fluctuate wildly, with temperatures sometimes dropping below freezing in winter and soar to hot and humid heights in the summer, spurring on the spread of malaria.

The reaction to Tuesday’s amnesty has been largely one of anger. Only 51 political prisoners were among the nearly 17,000 released, meaning that more than 2000 activists, MPs, lawyers and journalists remain behind bars.

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