The family of an imprisoned Myanmar activist on hunger strike for more than a week was turned away by prison authorities while attempting to meet him Thursday, with his wife claiming that his guards had been ordered to refuse visitors during the protest.
Htin Kyaw, who has been sentenced to nearly a dozen years in prison on charges filed in nearly a dozen townships for distributing anti-government leaflets, launched his hunger strike on Oct. 2.
The move was in protest against his reported detention in solitary confinement at the notorious Insein Prison in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon.
His wife, Than Than Maw, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that she had traveled to the prison Thursday to check on her husband’s health, but was told she could not visit with him, according to facility regulations.
“The authorities said that they could not allow me to see him according to jail rules, because he is on a hunger strike,” she said.
“I asked them to see the jail manual so that I could have a look at the rule. There was no written rule about that.”
Than Than Maw said she was later informed that “headquarters had issued an order that Htin Kyaw was not to see his family,” but not told why.
She said that one of the prison officials told her they would contact her when family members could visit Htin Kyaw again.
Than Than Maw said she did not know the health condition of her husband, currently in his eighth day of fasting.
Following a court appearance on Oct. 2 in Kyauktada township, Htin Kyaw told Myanmar’s Eleven news media that he would “go on a hunger strike as prison officers are planning to keep me in solitary confinement.”
He also claimed that prison officials were “inciting quarrels between him and other prisoners,” Eleven said.
Htin Kyaw, a human rights defender and leader of community-based organization the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF), has been arrested many times for his activism.
Most recently, he was arrested on May 5 in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township while distributing leaflets criticizing the Myanmar government and calling on members of parliament to resign.
Other flyers distributed by the MDCF had falsely announced that Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and ethnic political parties had formed an interim government.
Htin Kyaw is currently serving a term of 11 years and four months in jail after being sentenced on charges of causing public fear or alarm in 10 of 11 different townships where he had distributed the leaflets during a protest march in late April and early May.
Each charge, under Section 505(b) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, provides for up to two years' imprisonment and a fine.
A longtime activist imprisoned under Myanmar’s former military junta regime in 2007, Htin Kyaw resumed campaigning after his release under a political prisoner amnesty in January 2012, staging solo protests and leading land grab victims in demonstrations.
He was jailed in August 2013 after he organized a protest against land grabs, prompting him to hold a hunger strike against his own detention.
Between Oct. 21 and Nov. 29 last year, five different courts sentenced him to at least 33 months’ imprisonment on multiple charges under Article 18 of Myanmar’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which rights groups say is frequently used by the authorities to detain peaceful activists.
Htin Kyaw was freed on Dec. 11 as part of an amnesty by President Thein Sein, but was arrested and jailed again on sedition charges the same day.
He was released again on Dec. 31, the day before Thein Sein declared that all political prisoners in Myanmar had been freed—an announcement disputed by rights groups who say that at least 75 prisoners of conscience currently remain behind bars.
Following his arrest in May this year, London-based Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action appeal calling on authorities in Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release Htin Kyaw and drop all charges against him.
Amnesty demanded assurance that, pending his unconditional release, Htin Kyaw would not be tortured or otherwise ill-treated, be given access to lawyers of his choosing and allowed visits from family members.
Reported by Khin Pyae Son for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.