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Demands for an improvement to living conditions inside Burma’s most notorious jail have been rejected by authorities, despite a hunger strike by political prisoners last week gaining international attention.
Nearly 30 inmates had refused food at the Insein jail in Rangoon, a number of whom were sent to solitary confinement as punishment. Although the strike ended on 25 May with authorities pledging to meet various demands, it now appears that a wholesale rejection has been issued.
Several news journals inside Burma were yesterday ordered by the government to publish an article outlining the refusal: calls for mosquito nets and fans for prisoners were deemed too costly, the article said, as were adequately-sized prisoner uniforms that would be replaced every six months.
It also claimed that Insein’s sizeable political prisoner population would not be separated from the common criminals because of a lack of space. Insein prison was built by the British in 1871 to house around 5,000 inmates, but despite some expansion it remains heavily overcrowded, with an estimated population double its stated capacity. Authorities would also continue to record conversations between prisoners and visiting relatives, the article said.
Tate Naing, joint secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners–Burma (AAPPB), was critical of the response, claiming that authorities had broken prison regulations.
“If they are to keep someone in prison, then they must grant that person the rights accorded in the prison manual. Denying the prisoners these rights with excuses of security and financial issues is very groundless.”
The early phase of the strike, which began on 17 May with five female political prisoners refusing to leave their cells, followed the day after President Thein Sein announced a one-year commutation of all prison sentences that saw nearly 17,000 people released early. Among these however were only around 50 political prisoners.
In the past few days however, inmates in the remote Kale prison in northern Burma have also begun a hunger strike. Rumours suggested that it had also spread to Hkamti prison close to Burma’s border with India.
Four inmates in Kale, including influential monk Ashin Gambira and 1990 MP-elect Nyi Pu, had addressed a letter earlier this month to Burma’s home affairs minister complaining that they were being denied adequate healthcare, food and the freedom to communicate with their families. The strike was prompted by the lack of response form the government.
A Rangoon-based news journal editor who requested anonymity told DVB that publications were still waiting to see whether they could publish independent news on the hunger strikes, but noted that the official article on the demands of the protesters omitted the fact that some had been put in solitary confinement.