Burmese activist Naw Ohn Hla, who was imprisoned last month for protesting against an unpopular copper mine project, has been transferred to a new jail with better health care facilities, fuelling speculation that she has been refusing food.
An official at Monywa prison, where she had been held, confirmed to DVB that Naw Ohn Hla was transferred to Mandalay on 11 September.
“Since our prison doesn’t have a hospital, we asked senior authorities to transfer her to [Obo] prison which has medical facilities complete with doctors and equipment, so that she can get more extensive health care,” said U Htwe.
But he refused to verify rumours that the 52-year-old veteran activist has been staging a hunger strike since being sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for sedition in late August, saying only that she was “in good health”.
Naw Ohn Hla initially refused to attend her trial, which she slammed as “unfair”, but was forcibly dragged into her final court hearing by two female police officers.
One of her close aides, activist Kyaw Aye from the Former Political Prisoner Organisation, said he had been visiting her in prison, but that the transfer would make it harder for him to do so and expressed concerns for her health.
“I suspect they probably forced her to [accept] the transfer by making threats,” said Kyaw Aye.
Naw Ohn Hla was sentenced to two years in prison with labour by Monywa township court on 29 August for leading an “unauthorised” protest against the controversial Latpadaung copper mine with a group of other women. The court ruled that she had violated article 505(b) of Burma’s draconian penal code which bans activities that upset “public tranquility”.
She is the latest in a string of activists to be arrested and jailed under Burma’s arbitrary laws since reformist President Thein Sein took office.
The 52-year-old, along with the other women, still faces charges of demonstrating without permission, which could add an extra year to her sentence. According to her lawyer, the women had applied for permission to protest five times, but were repeatedly turned down by the local authorities.
The Latpadaung project has provoked outrage from locals who say it will cause irreversible environmental damage and has forced hundreds from their homes.
The joint military and China-backed venture rose to notoriety last year when the government led a bloody crackdown on a group of peaceful protestors, resulting in dozens of monks being severely burned. A controversial investigation led by Aung San Suu Kyi later ruled that the project should go ahead, despite local objections.
Naw Ohn Hla is a former member of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and spent several stints in prison under the former military regime.