By WAI MOE
In an apparent warning to Burmese citizens and a snub to the international community, the Burmese military government has sentenced 13 more dissidents—a signal that it was playing hardball on the issue of political prisoners.
According to sources in Rangoon, a special tribunal in Insein Prison on Monday sentenced 13 pro-democracy activists on a variety of “security” charges—some for participating in relief efforts to help victims of Cyclone Nargis, others for protesting the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Four of the convicted were former student activists: Yin Yin Wine, Tin Tin Cho, Myat Thu and Ni Mo Hlaing. In response to the Cyclone Nargis disaster in May they volunteered as relief workers in the Irrawaddy delta and collected donations from friends and relatives. The tribunal sentenced them to three years in prison.
Three others—Htet Htet Oo Wai, Win Myint Maung and Tun Tun Win—were members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). It was alleged that they had taken part in a march to the People’s Assembly building in Rangoon in December calling for the release of Suu Kyi. They were each sentenced to five years imprisonment under State Emergency Act 5/J.
The other six activists were arrested on August 7, 2008, in relation to their activities on behalf of the dissident 88 Generation Students group. One of the six was a schoolteacher, Aung Aung Zaw, who had been arrested allegedly in possession of anti-government leaflets. The six were convicted at a separate hearing in Insein Prison on Monday, although their sentences are as yet not known.
The sentences came after just a week after United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana reported to the UN Human Rights Council on Burma, in which he called for the release of all political prisoners before the 2010 election.
Although the Burmese regime released more than 9,000 prisoners in September and 6,313 prisoners in February, Quintana said that only 29 political prisoners had been included in the move.
“These releases, although encouraging, lack any proportionality with the total number of prisoners of conscience,” Quintana said at the time. “Therefore, these measures cannot be seen as progressive.”
The issue of health care in Burmese prisons has recently been called into question among other human rights concerns.
Jailed labor activist, Su Su Nway was recently hospitalized with heart disease in Kalay General Hospital outside Kalay Prison in Sagaing Division.
Another jailed activist, well-known comedian Zaganar, reportedly told his family that he was concerned about the quality of drinking water and the food in prison.
Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of a Burmese human rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), said, “For prisoners, medical care and food and water quality in Burma’s prisons are the main challenges. Many political prisoners, including some prominent activists, are in poor health.”
According to the AAPP, 138 political prisoners have died in Burmese prisons since 1988 and at least 115 are currently in poor health.