Jailed MPs, monks lobby home minister

Four political prisoners in the remote Kale jail have addressed a letter to Burma’s home affairs minister, U Ko Ko, in which they claim they are being denied adequate healthcare, food and the freedom to communicate with their families.

Among the four is Ashin Gambira, who is serving a 63-year sentence for his pivotal role in the September 2007 uprising. His sister, Khin Thu Htay, who visited him on 14 May, said that the letter was sent on behalf of political prisoners and regular prisoners who “vowed to go on hunger strike if there is no response by 31 May”.

“There are over 16 other [political prisoners] in other wards [in Kale] and apparently they will also send out a letter today,” she added.

Nyi Pu, who was elected in 1990 to the People’s Parliament before being sentenced to 15 years, is also among the signatories. In September last year he was reported to be in poor health after not receiving help for a condition that lowers the level of potassium in the blood.

Among the other would-be recipients of the letter, which also asks for prisoners to be allowed reading books, radio and satellite television, will be President Thein Sein and the three vice-presidents, as well as the UN Human Rights Commission. Thein Sein has suggested that a prisoner amnesty is on the cards, but concrete details have not been given.

Ashin Gambira also reported that a Political Prisoners’ Union has been formed and will “work to form a regular Prisoners’ Union,” according to his sister. Previous demands he made for former junta chief Than Shwe to visit him in prison and begin dialogue were met with heavy treatment by authorities, who filled his mouth with a cloth, taped him up and repeatedly beat him.

Burma is estimated to have around 200,000 prisoners in 43 jails across the country. The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB) claims there is only one doctor for every 8,000 prisoners. Demands for better healthcare are frequently made by rights groups but protests by inmates are rare, and can result in heavy-handed punishments.

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