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Burma: Release Critically Ill Phyo Wai Aung Without Delay

By Asian Human Rights Commission  •  May 23, 2012

An Open Letter from the Asian Human Rights Commission to the President of Burma, Thein Sein.

Dear Mr. President:

You will be aware that the case of 32-year-old Phyo Wai Aung, accused of involvement in the April 2010 bombing of the Burmese New Year’s water festival in Yangon, has attracted a great deal of attention both in your home country and abroad.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, from detailed study of the case, is of the opinion that the accused has been wrongly charged. Regrettably, on May 8, 2008, a court convicted him on the basis of a confession extracted through the use of torture, and sentenced him to death on one charge, and to 39 years in prison on a number of others.

While we are aware that Burma has not in recent years carried out death sentences, in this instance commutation of the death penalty will not go far enough.

Unfortunately, Phyo Wai Aung is critically ill. Some of his ailments he had before going to prison in 2010; others he may have contracted while inside, but in any event, subjection to extreme forms of torture, harsh conditions of detention, immense psychological stress, and lack of adequate, specialized medical treatment while detained have all contributed to a worsening in his condition.

On May 21, Dr. Kyaw Swar Lin and consultant radiologist Dr. Yi Yi Lwin of the New Yangon General Hospital carried out a full CT scan of Phyo Wai Aung. The scan confirmed that Phyo Wai Aung has advanced liver cancer and the prognosis is that he has only some months to survive, perhaps less. According to his family, he is unable to lie down without suffering from severe pain and has great trouble sleeping. The family also notes that his father died similarly due to cancer only a few months after diagnosis, and the news that Phyo Wai Aung is unlikely to live much longer has placed enormous strain on them.

We regret to note that repeated requests have been made to you, to senior officials in your government and to other persons in Myanmar by various agencies and concerned persons for Phyo Wai Aung to obtain adequate medical treatment have so far been to no avail. Despite the fact that Phyo Wai Aung has complained of this condition for some time, throughout his time in the central prison since 2010 he has not obtained specialist treatment.

His family has also said in the past that they would bear the costs of specialist treatment if he could only be let out of prison to enable it; however, their requests also have been denied. In this respect, we note that rule 22(2) of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners stipulates that, “Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals.”

We regret to note that in this case is an instance of the rule being most flagrantly and repeatedly ignored.

We have now come to this situation where it is too late to ask for anything other than that you as president exercise your authority to obtain the unconditional release of Phyo Wai Aung from custody, so that he might spend a short amount of time at his home and with his family, in relative comfort and getting some form of medical attention, prior to passing away.
Accordingly, we urge that you grant a pardon under section 204 of the Constitution of Burma 2008, or remit the sentence of an accused under section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code. While from a legal perspective neither of these courses of action is satisfactory, from a humanitarian perspective either one or the other is imperative, since either will enable Phyo Wai Aung to go home and live the remainder of his time in peace, with his wife, young children and other loved ones.

We look forward to your prompt intervention to prevent this victim of torture and other forms of abuse from the police and judicial authorities in Myanmar from dying needlessly in prison. Kindly also be informed that the sister organization of the AHRC, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, has prepared and will be making both oral and written statements on this case to the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, this June.

Yours sincerely,

Wong Kai Shing,
executive director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

For more information on this case, see here.

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