Chronology of Burma’s political prisoner news (August, 2009)

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There are now a total of 2,211 political prisoners in Burma.

This is an overall increase of 21 in comparison to last month’s figure of 2,190.  The increase is due to retrospective information AAPP received in August, about the detention of 14 monks around the time of the Saffron Revolution, 4 members of the Burma National Integrity to Democracy group, and other individual activists.

Although 31 people were arrested during the month of August, 33 were also released.

Monthly Trend Analysis
During the month of August 2009, at least 31 activists were arrested, 5 were sentenced for the first time in their case[1], and 33 were released.  At least 3 were transferred to remote prisons.  At least 137 political prisoners are in poor health due to the harsh prison conditions, transfers to remote prisons where there are no doctors, and the denial of proper medical care.

News this month has continued to be dominated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial.  On 11 August 2009 she was sentenced to three years with hard labour, commuted to 18 months house arrest by Senior General Than Shwe.  Her two live-in party members Daw Khin Khin Win and Daw Win Ma Ma received the same sentence.  American citizen John Yettaw was sentenced to seven years with hard labour.  Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – together with her two party members – was returned to house arrest shortly after the verdict was delivered. Following a visit by pro-engagement American Senator Jim Webb on 15 August, who met with both the head of the Burmese military junta Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, John Yettaw was allowed to leave Burma on so-called ‘humanitarian grounds’.  Lawyers for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have said they will file an appeal in early September against the criminal conviction. According to Nyan Win, one of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers, her detention conditions have worsened since her conviction this month.

In the meantime, the crackdown on NLD members continued this month, with more arrests, and sentences handed down to at least thirteen NLD members.  87 year-old NLD MP U Kyaw Khaing was also transferred to a prison away from his family.  In the run-up to the second anniversary of the Saffron Revolution in September, monks are also being subjected to increasingly tight security measures across the country, amidst reports that the Sangha may be planning a third boycott on receiving alms from military personnel and their families.  Three monks have been arrested in Burma’s  Magwe division, and one in Rangoon.  He told his family he was tortured under interrogation.

The international community’s reaction to the verdict in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s case was overall highly critical, the strongest condemnation coming from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who referred to it as ‘monstrous’.  However, China urged the international community to respect Burma’s judicial sovereignty.  ASEAN criticised Burma’s ruling junta, expressing grave concern about recent developments relating to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, especially given her fragile health. The current Thai Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan also said that the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi and of all political prisoners in Burma affects ASEAN’s image and collective interests.  The body has since discussed the possibility of sending a letter appealing for an amnesty for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to the junta, but have yet to make their position on this clear.

The UN failed to agree on a tough response to the verdict, and was only able to come up with a watered-down statement expressing “serious concern” at the extended detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after a tougher draft met opposition from China, Libya, Russia and Vietnam.

Treatment of prisoners and their families
During the month of August, prominent labour activist Su Su Nway was placed in solitary confinement for three days after participating in a ceremony to mark the 62nd anniversary of Martyrs’ Day on July 19 in Kale prison. Su Su Nway, 37, already suffers from hypertension and heart disease. She has recently been transferred to Hkamti prison in Sagaing division, which is 1200 miles from Rangoon, (Kale prison, also in Sagaing division, is 680 miles from Rangoon).  National League for Democracy member Myo Kyaw Zin was also placed in solitary confinement, apparently because he wrote “Release Aung San Suu Kyi Now!” on his shirt.  87 year-old NLD MP U Kyaw Khaing was transferred to Thayet prison in Magwe division from Thandwe prison in Arakan State, further away from his family. And Generation Wave member Nyein Chan aka Khaing Ko Mon aka Khaing Gyi is currently being held in solitary confinement as a punishment for speaking out on behalf of criminal prisoners.

Prisoners Released
33 political prisoners were released.  The majority of them were arrested on either 31 July or 11 August, the original date the verdict was due in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, and the date the verdict was finally handed down. They were held overnight and released the next day.  Three prisoners were released because they had completed their sentences.

New this month:
Opinion section, with extracts of key opinion-editorials on the topic of Burma’s political prisoners.

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