The family of a female political prisoner in northern Burma say they have been denied access to see her, despite reports that she is suffering from a number of health problems.
Htet Htet Oo Wei is in her third of a five-year sentence in the remote Putao prison in far-north Kachin state, which can take up to five days overland travel from Rangoon, where her family live.
“My mother is not in very good health,” said her daughter, Aye Chan Pyae, who recently made the journey to visit her but was turned away at the door.
Under Burmese law, prisoners have the right to receive visits once every two weeks. Htet Htet Oo Wei hasn’t seen a visitor for three months.
“I didn’t get to see [her]; she is banned from receiving visits as she’s in solidarity confinement for allegedly breaking some prison rules for making noises. She isn’t allowed to accept parcels either,” Aye Chan Pyae said. She has been in solitary confinement since 19 January.
Prior to Aye Chan Pyae’s visit she had received a letter from her mother listing items she needed. “She said she was suffering from tinnitus and that her left leg was numb. She is ill.”
Medicine is hard to obtain in Burma’s 43 prisons and 100-plus labour camps. An official from the government’s Prison Administration Department admitted last year that there were, in total, 109 medical staff assigned to all the prisons, equating to one for every 8000 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 thus have to rely on medicine supplied by visiting family members. The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) says there is no doctor in Putao prison.
Htet Htet Oo Wei had been arrested in late 2008 whilst taking part in a march in Rangoon by the opposition National League for Democracy’s youth wing. They had been calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then under house arrest.
Following her arrest, she was accused in government-run newspapers of paying the youths to stage the protest. She was later sentenced to five years under the Emergency Provision Act for disturbing the tranquillity of the state.
Aye Chan Pyae said her mother also took part in a protest in Rangoon’s Hledan junction in August 2007 along with other prominent female political activists Nilar Thein, Mee Mee, Su Su Nway and Naw Ohn Hla. This came a day after student leader Min Ko Naing and other key 88 Generation Student figures were arrested.
Htet Htet Oo Wei is one of around 20 political prisoners in Putao prison, including Shan ethnic political leader Khun Htun Oo, who in 2005 was handed a 93-year sentence on charges of plotting political transition in Burma.
AAPP said it was “deeply concerned” about the ban on Htet Htet Oo Wei receiving visitors. According to the group, there are currently 2189 political prisoners in Burma, nearly 400 of whom are NLD members. The remaining are a mixture of lawyers, activists, monks, journalists, politicians and relief workers. More than 150 are thought to be in poor health.