Political prisoner health concerns rise

A new regulation that reduces the amount of items inmates can buy via prison officials has heightened concerns about access to medication, with numbers of former activists succumbing to dire prison conditions.

The limit has been introduced in Myitkyina prison in Burma’s northern Kachin state, where numbers of political prisoners are held. A youth member of the now-defunct National League for Democracy (NLD), Myo Khin, is being held there and suffering from a heart condition and eye problem.

His wife Khin Khin Win said that while treatment was being given by prison doctors, the new regulation had made life harder for him. Visiting family members are often the only providers of medication for prisoners, and visits can be hampered by the vast geographical distances created between family and detainee.

Myo Khin was sentenced to four and a half years’ in prison after taking part in one of the early protests that preceded the September 2007 uprising in Burma.

“He had been getting better in recent months but became worse this month. He said it was because of [hygiene problems] in the prison,” said Khin Khin Win. She added that it takes a 10-day roundtrip to visit Myitkyina prison, despite only being allowed 30 minutes to talk with Myo Khin.

Another NLD member who is being tried on charges of subversion has reportedly been beaten during interrogation and has gone deaf in one ear. Hyat Aung’s sister, San San Aye, said that he was being denied medical assistance whilst in detention.

“My brother’s temples were swollen and turned red. He was checked over by an ear-specialist doctor at the hospital who said his ear drum was ruptured and needed to be patched up.

“Now he had completely lost hearing in that ear due to the beating. He didn’t hear when I asked him what happened,” she said, adding that a request for an operation on his ear that was suggested doctors had been denied.

Similar complaints were also voiced by the family of a Karen National Union (KNU) prisoner, Saw Naing Lay, who cannot afford treatment for a “serious stomach ailment”.

“He was very thin; I don’t know how to help him,” a fellow prisoner told his family, adding that Saw Naing Lay had a prescription for medication but not the money to buy it. He is serving a 22-year sentence in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison.

Additional reporting by Yee May Aung

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