Another Loss for Burmese Activist’s Family

Burmese groups condemn the lack of health care for political prisoners after the wife of a young activist suffers a miscarriage in jail.
2009-01-23
Email story
Comment on this story
Share story
Print story
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Email
KathiAung-305.jpg
Undated family photo of Kathi Aung.
Family photo

BANGKOK—The 23-year-old wife of a Burmese activist involved in helping victims of Tropical Cyclone Nargis has suffered a second-trimester miscarriage in prison and has now been diagnosed with a heart condition, according to her parents.

Kathi Aung, whose husband Tun Tun has been in hiding from the authorities since September, was six months pregnant when she miscarried at O Bo Prison in Mandalay on or around Dec. 27, her parents said in an interview.

“We both cried—I am so worried,” Kathi Aung’s mother, Thi Da Aung, said of her Jan. 21 prison visit with her daughter. “She was thin and pale.” Thi Da Aung also said authorities threatened to transfer her daughter to a remote prison if she spoke to the media.

Kathi Aung is serving a 26-year sentence for allegedly crossing the Burmese border and maintaining contact with illegal organizations, although her husband says she had no involvement in politics. Her defense lawyer, Myint Thwin, said he plans to appeal her sentence to a higher court in Mandalay on Monday.

...It may have been caused by the harsh treatment she received while she was being interrogated."

Tun Tun, husband

Her father, Soe Tint, said prison doctors had diagnosed his daughter with a heart condition. “This was the news, that she has heart trouble. We are worried. We’re not familiar with politics—we’re just poor vendors.”

“At first I was so angry when I heard she had been arrested. I was so angry with my daughter and her husband. Now I’m just so sad to hear this news,” Soe Tint said.

“If she has a heart condition, it may have been caused by the harsh treatment she received while she was being interrogated,” Tun Tun said. “She was detained for two months without any contact with family.”

Outcry from exile groups

Two Burmese exile groups, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) and the Burmese Women's Union, on Friday cited Kathi Aung’s case in a joint statement condemning inadequate health care for political prisoners in Burma.

“The authorities have clearly failed to meet their obligations” under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which the junta signed in 1997, the statement said.

“As a result, Kay Thi [Kathi] Aung has suffered a terrible loss.  She needs urgent medical treatment,” it said, calling for the reinstatement of prison visits in Burma by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Cyclone help


Tun Tun, 24 and known as Myo Min Oo, said from an undisclosed hiding place in December that the authorities had come looking for him in early September, at the same time that they detained a number of other activists, whose work with Nargis victims  showed up gaping holes in the government's handling of the disaster.

Junta officials came looking for him, Tun Tun said at the time, but they couldn’t find him so they detained his wife.

Until September, Tun Tun had been working closely with two Buddhist monks who were helping Nargis victims in Bogalay, Dedaye, Pyapone, and other disaster-stricken towns in the south of the country, collecting donations and distributing aid to the victims.

Following the “Saffron Revolution”—a monk-led series of protests sparked by rising fuel prices, which ended in an armed crackdown in October 2007—Tun Tun worked with two monks helping cyclone victims left without government aid, first in Mandalay, then on several trips to the devastated Irrawaddy delta.

Both monks have since been arrested on suspicion of re-grouping for further mass demonstrations on the first anniversary of the crackdown on the Saffron Revolution.

According to official figures, Cyclone Nargis killed 84,537 people and left 53,836 missing and 19,359 injured.

Local people left homeless and without food or water in the wake of the storm complained that the government prevented aid from reaching those who needed it, and hindered attempts by religious groups and private individuals to plug the gap.

In December, New York-based Human Rights Watch renewed its criticism of Burma's treatment of political prisoners, both in court and in prison.

It urged ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan to send an independent legal assessment team to monitor the situation, calling on ASEAN to address Burma's lack of respect for the rule of law when it holds its rescheduled ASEAN summit meeting in early 2009.

Original reporting in Burmese and translation by Kyaw Min Htun for RFA’s Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Written and produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.