Friday, January 9, 2009

Visitation rights denied to families of political prisoners

by Than Htike Oo

Chiang Maing (Mizzima) – Family members of political prisoners have had to return from journeys to remote prisons without ever having a chance to meet with those detained, a result of the latest hardship brought against political prisoners by Burma's ruling military.

In one example, the Myitkyinar prison authority in Kachin State only informed visiting family members of noted comedian and film director Zargana on the 2nd of this month about a ban on prison visits by family members during the current month.

"They said that the ban is for all political prisoners, but only for this month. Apart from that, they said nothing. The higher authorities ordered them to do so, they said," Tayza, elder brother of Zargana, told Mizzima.

The decision greatly inconvenienced family members in Rangoon, who instead of spending at least 120,000 kyat (approximately US$ 100) for return airfare, opted to take a train to the northern city, a journey of some three days.

The popular comedian is serving a 59 year prison term for multiple charges, including committing disaffection towards the state and government by using the Internet.

Similarly, family members of Sports Journal editor Zaw Thet Htwe and 88 generation student female leader Nilar Thein, who are serving their prison terms in Taungyi in Shan State and Thayet prison in Pegu Division, respectively, have had to return home without meeting their loved ones.

Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B) Joint-Secretary Bo Kyi said that such a ban on visits by family members of political prisoners is but the latest punishment leveled against those already wrongfully imprisoned.

"This is giving extra punishment to these political prisoners without reason. They didn't commit any crime in the prisons. It seems personal grudges against these political prisoners is behind the ban on allowing meetings with their family members during prison visits," Bo Kyi said.

During monk-led protests in September 2007 in Rangoon, Mandalay and other major cities, protesters requested the government to enter into a dialogue with the opposition in the hope of putting an end to twenty years of political stalemate inside the country.

However, military authorities instead responded with the arrest of Buddhist monks, students, human right activists and National League for Democracy (NLD) party members in connection with the demonstrations, subsequently sentencing them to long prison terms in the final months of 2008 before sending them to remote prisons in Shan, Kachin and Rakhine States.

According to statistics compiled by AAPP-B, the junta has handed down sentences to a total of 410 political prisoners, of which 146 are monks, 126 women and 138 men. In all, the organization lists 2,137 political prisoners being held in prisons throughout Burma.

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