Labor Activist's Health Suffering

A leading Burmese labor activist isn't getting the care she needs in prison for a heart ailment.

2009-03-24
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Su-Su-Nway-305.jpg RANGOON, Burma: Labor activist Suu Suu Nway tries to prevent the arrest of a comrade during a protest rally, Aug. 28, 2007.
AFP

BANGKOK—Jailed Burmese labor activist Suu Suu Nway’s health is suffering badly in prison, according to her sister and a Hong Kong-based human rights group that is now appealing to the ruling junta to arrange immediate medical treatment.

“Some witnesses said she was taken by prison car to the hospital and carried into the hospital,” her sister, Htay Htay Kyi, said in an interview. “She is being held so far away from us, and we couldn’t just run to her when we heard this."

“None of her family members have been informed [about her health] by the prison authorities, and the prison doesn’t answer the phone when we call to ask about her,” she said, adding that the family was sending parcels to Suu Suu Nway twice every month.

We are gravely concerned..."
Asian Human Rights Commission

Suu Suu Nway, originally from Rangoon and a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy, successfully sued local authorities under a law banning the use of forced labor. She was subsequently jailed for harassment.

She was released, then re-arrested in November 2007 as she tried to paste up a leaflet near a Rangoon hotel where a visiting U.N. human rights investigator had been staying.

Suu Suu Nway, who has a congenital heart condition, is serving an eight-year prison sentence, reduced last month from an initial sentence of 12-1/2 years. She was transferred in November from Insein Prison, in the former capital Rangoon, to Kalay Prison, in remote Sagaing division.

Open letter

In an open letter dated March 24 and addressed to the Burmese home minister, Maj-Gen. Maung Oo, the Asian Human Rights Commission said Suu Suu Nway, 39, was “seriously incapacitated and could die for want of adequate medical attention.”

She “has a congenital heart defect and has been on medication for a long time,” the letter said, citing accounts from visitors that Suu Suu Nway “is unable to walk without support from wardens and appears to be extremely weak and pale.”

“While we are aware that [Suu Suu Nway] has obtained some treatment at the Kalay hospital, we are gravely concerned that so long as she is held in the extremely poor conditions in the prison her health will only continue to worsen.”

The letter, signed by the commission’s executive director Basil Fernando, called for Suu Suu Nway to be given access to urgent inpatient treatment at a hospital outside the prison and transferred to a prison closer to her family.

In its most recent annual report on human rights in Burma, the State Department said that "human rights observers reported that at year's end [2008] there were approximately 2,100 'security detainees,' including political prisoners, merchants, violators of state security laws, and those accused of fostering religious disturbances."

Among them was listed Suu Suu Nway, who on Jan. 29, 2008, was charged with "sedition, libel against foreign powers, and association with an unlawful organization."

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana insisted on meeting privately with her in August 2008, it added.

Original reporting by Tin Aung Khine for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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