Political inmates ‘face threats to life’

Political prisoners in Burma are being detained alongside common criminals, including death row convicts, a group of recently released prisoners have said.

The conditions are “life threatening”, according to a farmer released last month after spending four months in a prison in central Burma’s Magwe division. His sentencing on charges of alleged trespassing on government-owned property was condemned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

A fellow farmer sentenced under the same charges had been attacked by a prisoner named Aung Win, who was on death row, the farmer told DVB on condition of anonymity.

“Before we were released from the prison [on 17 February], U Zaw Htay was beaten up and cut on his forehead,” he said.

“We the farmers and other political inmates wrote a letter to the prison’s chief asking him to move the death row convict, Aung Win, to another cell, but no action was taken until we were released from the prison.

“The prison officials are making it look like it’s just a problem among prisoners but this is life threatening,” he added.

Burma holds more than 2,170 political prisoners in jails around the country. This figure includes activists, politicians, journalists and lawyers, while opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is currently under house arrest.

Conditions inside jails are said to be dire, with prisoners often forced to pay bribes before receiving medical assistance.

Analysts predict that the ruling junta will intensify arrests and intimidation of opposition members in the run-up to elections, rumoured to be in October this year, as it looks to tighten its grip on power.

Both Washington and the UN have demanded the release of all political prisoners as a prerequisite for free and fair elections.

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