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Political Prisoners Strike Back, Hunger Strike in Insein Prison Demands the Attention of the International Community

By US Campaign for Burma  •  May 23, 2011

The U. S. Campaign for Burma (USCB), a Washington, DC-based grassroots organization campaigning to end crimes against humanity and the culture of impunity in the Southeast Asian country of Burma, today strongly demands the international community pay attention to the hunger strike, currently being staged by political prisoners in Burma’s notorious Insein Prison. Nearly 30 political prisoners, including seven women and three Buddhist Monks, are staging hunger strikes to demand their prisoners’ rights be fulfilled. Their hunger strike is expected to expand to other political prisoners in various prisons soon.

To express their dissatisfaction with the regime’s sham amnesty, seven women political prisoners staged a hunger strike beginning on May 17. Today is the sixth day of their hunger strike. The regime’s President Thein Sein declared on May 16 that he will grant one year commutation to all prisoners. Under the so-called general amnesty, about 14,600 prisoners, with less than one year left on their sentences, were released including 55 political prisoners, only 2% of Burma’s political prisoners’ population. More than 2,000 political prisoners with long term imprisonment still remained incarcerated. 22 male political prisoners in Insein Prison joined the hunger strike on May 23, 2011. They called on the prison authorities to grant their six-point demands, as mentioned below.

(1)   Prisoners must be provided with adequate and hygienic daily food supply according to standard prison regulations.

(2)   To provide adequate and comfortable sized prisoner uniforms to maintain the personal dignity of prisoners and to replace uniforms once every 6 months, according to standard prison regulations.

(3)   The size of the communal living area is around 30 feet by 55 feet for an average of 110 prisoners. Floors must be cleaned and sealed to prevent insects and rats from entering the prisoners’ living area. Mosquito nets and/or fans must be provided to protect prisoners from mosquito and rodent bites.

(4)   To allow prisoners to have official stationery as required, according to prison regulations; newspapers, magazines, reference books, including dictionaries, educational and foreign language materials.

(5)   To divide the political prisoners from the common criminal prisoner population and provide separate cells, living areas and facilities.

(6)   To allow political prisoners the same family visiting rights which are provided to foreign prisoners. Political prisoners must be given privacy and allowed to speak freely during their family visits.

“Prisons in Burma are a known living hell”, says Aung Din, Executive Director of the USCB who himself served over four years as a political prisoner in Burma. “There is no adequate or sufficient food supply, no clean water, no proper medical treatment and no livable environment. Prison cells and halls are full of mosquitoes, bed bugs, flies, ants and other insets. Prison guards treat the prisoners like animals under their command. I believe the authorities created such conditions on purpose to punish the political prisoners more. I am not surprised my colleagues are demanding basic rights to endure their long imprisonment,” Aung Din continues.

“However, I am concerned that they will be punished for making demands and staging the strike. They will be beaten and tortured while their heads are covered with hoods and their hands are cuffed at their back. Then they will be put in solitary confinement for a long time. They may even be killed when attacked by prison guards. I ask the international community to call on the regime to treat all political prisoners with respect and release them as soon as possible”, said Aung Din. On May 5, 1998, a political prisoner, named “Aung Kyaw Moe” was killed by beating and attack of a group of prison officials after he staged a hunger strike in Tharyar Waddy Prison in Bago Region.

The United Nations and governments around the world are demanding Thein Sein’s government release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally as a step toward national reconciliation. However, Thein Sein has refused to release them. He still claims there are no political prisoners in Burma. There are more than 2,000 democracy activists, and human rights defenders being incarcerated in Burma. About 150 are women and over 200 Buddhist monks who led the 2007 Saffron Revolution are also among the over 2,000 political prisoners. Many of them are being incarcerated in various remote prisons throughout the country, far away from their families. They all are serving lengthy prison terms of 65 years and up.

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This post is in: Press Release

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