Phyo Wai Aung, who was falsely accused of masterminding a grenade attack at the Rangoon Thingyan festival in April 2010, and later tortured and sentenced to death, has died at his home early on Friday morning, less than six months after being pardoned.
The 33-year-old, who was considered a political prisoner by human rights groups, suffered health complications in prison, including hepatitis and tuberculosis, before being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in May last year, a few days after being sentenced to death.
Phyo Wai Aung was released under a presidential pardon in August; four days after UN Special Rapporteur on human rights Tomas Quintana visited him in hospital. It followed growing international condemnation over his arrest and mistreatment in custody.
He spent his last months in Insein hospital, where his condition quickly deteriorated and rendered him paralysed from the waist down.
“He got liver cancer because he was denied medical care while in the prison,” said his younger brother. “As he was already in the last stages of [cancer], there was nothing more the hospital could do. He was brought back home 18 days ago.”
He was first detained in April 2010 after a series of grenade attacks killed nine people and injured over 100 during Thingyan festivities in central Rangoon. Phyo Wai Aung says he was arbitrarily arrested and tortured into a confession.
“I was tortured by various methods,” he told DVB in an exclusive interview shortly after his release. “I was mostly beaten up – they’d told me to confess to the crime and would beat me if I didn’t. But then they’d still beat me even when I [talked].”
The Burmese authorities initially arrested nine people, including DVB journalists Maung Maung Zeya and Sithu Zeya, who were later exonerated of terrorism charges but jailed for their work with the news group.
Phyo Wei Aung is survived by his wife Htay Htay and two children. His funeral was held today at 1pm in accordance with Muslim tradition.