Health crisis for Burma's political prisoners

May 12, 2009 (DVB), Systematic torture and denial of healthcare to political prisoners in Burma has caused a spiraling health crisis, while dissenters are being imprisoned with increasing frequency, said a report released yesterday.

Since last October, 350 activists have been sentenced, bringing the total number of political prisoners in Burma to over 2,100.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP), who yesterday released 'Burma's prisons and labour camps: Silent killing fields', say that political prisoners are receiving harsher sentences than ever before, with 127 now reportedly in poor health.

"The situation for Burma's political prisoners is dire," said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of AAPP.

"Leading activists have been transferred to the most remote prisons, where there are no prison doctors, and they are more likely to contract diseases like malaria and tuberculosis."

The report points to several prominent political prisoners who are now reported to be in poor health.

Renowned comedian Zarganar, who is serving 35 years in the remote Myitkyina prison in northern Kachin state after speaking to foreign media following last year's cyclone Nargis, was last month reportedly suffering swollen liver and jaundice.

A doctor who visited imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week revealed that she was suffering from dehydration and low blood pressure, and was not eating.

Medical care inside prisons is often only obtained through bribes, and even then lacks adequacy. According to the report, at least 12 of the 44 prisons in Burma do not even have a doctor.

Visiting family members are often the sole source of medicine, but increasing transfers of political prisoners to remote jails, sometimes two days travel from families, compounds the already dire health situation.

"Prison transfers are also another form of psychological torture by the regime, aimed at both the prisoners and their families," says the report.

Aung Myo Thein, who spent six and a half years in prison following the 1988 uprising, says that even after release, prisoners suffer from terminal health problems.

"I was held in a cell, along with four others, that measured three and a half meters by two and a half meters, and we were allowed outside for fifteen minutes each day," he said.

"Due to the length of time spent in a small and enclosed space, many former prisoners continue to suffer eye problems."

Furthermore, the various methods of torture, such as being forced to stand or walk with shackles attached to the legs and a horizontal bar forcing the knees apart, leaves prisoners with considerable mobility problems years after their release.

"Many political prisoners have already died in prison," said Bo Kyi.

"This has to stop. The regime must end its cruel and inhumane practices, and release all political prisoners."

AAPP is currently coordinating a global campaign for Burma's political prisoners, which aims to collect 888,888 petition signatures before 24 May, the date the military junta claims that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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