June 10, 2009 (DVB), Campaigners in Britain have called on United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon to make the release of political prisoners in Burma, many of whom are being denied healthcare, an urgent priority "before they die".
Burma currently holds around 2,100 political prisoners in jails across the country. Many are deliberately imprisoned far from their families who, in the absence of sufficient in-prison healthcare, are relied upon to supply medicines.
Conditions in jails are often squalid, and torture by prison officials on political prisoners widespread.
A statement released yesterday by Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) detailed conditions for four high-profile political prisoners, including Min Ko Naing, who was last year sentenced to 65 years for his role in the September 2007 protests, and is said to be suffering from heart disease.
A leader of 88 Generation Students, Htay Kywe, who is held in the remote Buthidaung prison, is suffering from gastric problems and high blood pressure.
The prison has no electricity and he is reportedly not allowed to receive visitors or food parcels from his family.
"There is a deliberate policy of mistreating political prisoners and denying them healthcare and adequate food to stay healthy," said Wai Hin from BCUK.
"This is a crisis, and should be treated as one. It is not the time for the usual soft and slow diplomacy from the UN, which has totally failed for the past 20 years."
The statement coincides with news that a member of the National League for Democracy, Salai Hla Moe, who was held in central Burma's Myingyan prison, died last month from a blood disease, although his family were only told recently.
"He has been in prison nearly seven years and suffering from [the disease] for more than two years," said a relative, Salaung, who discovered his death a fortnight ago on a visit to the prison.
"Drinking and washing water in the prison is not clean. He has to use water that looks like water in the gutter."
"He was only treated in the prison clinic and when his condition worsened they didn’t allow him to receive treatment at an outside hospital."
The strain on the families of political prisoners is considerable. Relatives of those held in remote prisons are forced to travel for days to visit the prisoners, and then often only allowed to meet for a matter of minutes.
"At the moment, [Hla Moe's wife] is suffering from mental illness and she is not living at home, but wandering on the streets – she has gone mad," said Salaung.
"There is no future hope for their family as there is no one to look after their children."
Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min and Francis Wade