Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Myanmar 'disperses' dissidents

Families fear for their welfare in far-flung jails

Pro-democracy activists Ko Ko Gyi (left) and Min Ko Naing,
both sentenced for anti-junta protests last year,
have been sent to far-removed Kentung prison in north-east Myanmar.

YANGON (ST): Myanmar's junta has sent dozens of political prisoners, recently sentenced to up to 65 years in jail, to far-flung corners of its country.

The move makes it hard for their families to deliver food and medicine, according to relatives.

Without the informal delivery of supplies such as anti-malaria and vitamin pills, detainees face a far greater risk of dying behind bars, said former political prisoners who have fled to Thailand.

Mr Ko Aung, younger brother of former student activist Ko Ko Gyi, said on Monday: 'They were taken in secret from Insein Central Prison through the back gate early on Sunday morning.

'We waited at the front gate hoping to see them but didn't get the chance.'

The US has criticised Myanmar's 'brutal regime' for what it calls the arbitrary sentencing of dozens of pro-democracy activists to harsh prison terms.

At least 31 dissidents, including Buddhist monks, members of the '88 Generation' student group and social activists, were given harsh prison sentences by a court in Yangon's Insein Central Prison last week.

Pro-democracy activists Ko Ko Gyi and Min Ko Naing - Myanmar's best-known political prisoners after detained opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi - have been dispatched to Kentung in the north east, 1,200km from Yangon.

Other activists from the '88 Generation' students group arrested last August, after several protests over high fuel prices, were sent to Kawthoung in the south. Some others were sent to Putao, in the Himalayan foothills of the far north.

Many of the prisoners, some of whom have already spent more than a decade in jail, are thought to be in poor health.

'It must have been done with intent to punish their families too. It will be very difficult for people to visit them,' said MrNyan Win, a spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. More than a dozen members of the party are among the 60-odd dissidents sentenced to jail in the last two weeks.

Terms range from 65 years for prominent dissidents to 20 years for the country's best-known blogger Nay Phone Latt and four months for defence lawyers.

The ruling junta's official media have made no mention of the sentences, which rights groups say are a campaign to eradicate all political opposition in the run-up to a 2010 election.

19 November 2008

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