BANGKOK—Burma's political prisoners—many of them serving lengthy jail terms for their part in the 1988 pro-democracy movement—face harsh conditions in remote prisons where family visits are limited and food supply strictly controlled by the authorities, relatives and opposition party members say.
A representative of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in the central city of Meiktila accused authorities in the local prison of violating the human rights of political inmates.
Everything depends on the decision of the prison governor..."
Myint Myint Aye
"They always refuse to permit at least one or more food parcels whenever we take in food for the prisoners," Meiktila NLD secretary Myint Myint Aye said.
"Everything depends on the decision of the prison governor, U Cho Lwin. Taking into consideration humanitarian grounds, I don’t think they should do things like that," she said.
"It is never easy to send things into Meiktila prison. I think it is a violation of human rights."
Food parcels reduced
Ko Tun Tun Naing, former NLD youth organizer in Rangoon's Insein district, is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence in Meiktila Central Burma jail.
The length of his family’s visit was shortened and his food parcels were reduced by the prison governor, his wife Ma Aye Aye Thet said.
"At first, the prison governor was very forthcoming and said his prison was very good and that it was different from all the other prisons," she said.
"But after four months passed, none of my visits was easy. I had wanted to give my husband fresh vegetables so that he would get good nutrition, but they would not allow cabbage or cucumbers," she said.
"Other prisons allow these vegetables. They also would not allow food for more than one person to be brought in. I told them that I was also sending food enough for other fellow prisoners like him, but they wouldn't allow it."
Ma Aye Aye Thet said visiting time lasted for an hour at other prisons, but for only 20 minutes at Meiktila, where the cost of visiting her husband was around U.S. $50 each time.
Reduced jail term
Ko Tun Tun Naing was sentenced to a total of 19 years in jail for "discrediting the state." His sentence was reduced by seven years, leaving a total of 12 years after an appeal last month.
At present, eight other political prisoners are serving jail sentences at Meiktila: Buddhist monk Ashin Sandawaya, U Nyan Win, Ko Tun Tun Oo, Ko Khin Maung Chit, Ko Maung Sein, Ko Nyunt Win, Ko Si Thu Ko, and Daw San San Tin.
Meanwhile, the family of Ko Pyone Cho, one of the leaders of the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations, had to travel 790 miles (1,250 km) from their home in the former capital Rangoon to visit him following his transfer to Kawthaung prison in the southernmost part of the country last December.
The wife and father of Ko Pyone Cho were initially refused permission to visit him on arrival in Kawthaung on Jan. 14. A further request on Feb. 21 resulted in a visit on March 13, they said.
"The authorities said that prison visits were allowed only once a month. We saw him once in February. But while we were waiting for a ferry or boat to take us back to Rangoon, March came around so we made another request to visit him again since it was already a new month," Ko Pyone Cho's father U Win Maung said.
"At first, the authorities said that we would have to go back to Rangoon and come back again for a second visit, even though a month had already passed since our first visit. We managed to plead with the authorities saying that I am very old and that it was quite difficult for me to travel from Rangoon even for this trip," he said.
"We asked for leniency in their considerations and after a lapse of one week, they let us visit my son for the second time."
U Win Maung said the political prisoners at Kawthaung were kept individually in separate cells in a special ward, and contact between them was forbidden.
The family had been under surveillance since they arrived in Kawthaung, and officials had asked for the names of everyone they spoke to while they were there, U Win Maung said.
He added that the practice of transferring political prisoners to remote prisons across the country made it difficult for their respective families to visit them.
"It is so difficult and tiring to travel to those places," he said.
"What with the monsoon and the mud along hillsides, it is quite dangerous. In addition, it is so costly to travel. Bus and boat costs are not so high but transfer costs are really high. It cost us more than 200,000 kyat per trip (U.S. $200)."
Original reporting by Tin Aung Khine, Aung Moe Myint, Nay Lin, and Ye Htet for RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translated by Soe Thinn. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.