Burma intelligence probes political inmates

Political prisoners in northwestern Burma are being questioned about their stance on the National League for Democracy (NLD) party’s boycott of elections this year.

Intelligence officers from the Burmese government’s Special Branch (SB) have been visiting prisoners in Sagaing division’s Shwebo prison, according to the sister of Yin Yin Wyne, a jailed cyclone relief worker and one of 22 political inmates in the prison.

“[Yin Yin Wyne] was asked for an opinion on the NLD not entering the elections and she answered that she didn’t even know what the NLD’s stance was,” said the sister, Ma Moe, who visited her at the end of last month. “Then [the officials] showed her the NLD’s Shwegondai declaration and let her read to tell them what she thought about it.”

The Shwegondaing declaration, signed in April 2009, calls for the release of all political prisoners, recognition of the 1990 election results, a review of the 2008 constitution and the start of dialogue between the junta and the NLD.

Ma Moe added that the officers had acknowledged they were from the Special Branch and had interviewed every political inmate in the prison. The reasons for the questioning however remain unclear, although it may be a precursor to releasing ‘softer’ political prisoners prior to elections this year, as the junta looks to further appease the international community.

Burma holds around 2,150 activists, journalists, lawyers, monks and aid workers in jails across the country. Yin Yin Wyne was jailed for four years in 2008 under the Unlawful Associations Act after assisting victims of cyclone Nargis in May that year, which killed 140,000 people and left 2.4 million destitute.

Ma Moe said that her conversation with Yin Yin Wyne during the visit was recorded by two Special Branch officers.

But families of political prisoners in Burma’s western Arakan state said that no such questioning had taken place. The sister of imprisoned 88 Generation Student leader, Htay Kywe, said after a recent visit that Special Branch police had not been to the remote prison.

“His health was good; he said he didn’t have such a discussion,” she said of her brother. “For his opinion, he [wished] the elections should be open for everyone and a dialogue with the NLD put in place. He said he can’t accept the elections unless everyone participating.”

Htay Kywe was sentenced after the Saffron Revolution in 2007  to 65 years in prison. He had been prominent during the infamous 1988 uprising and was one of the last student leaders from that era to have been arrested.

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