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Burma: Amnesty demands immediate release of prisoners with paralysis and another with cerebral malaria

Cases rebut Burma’s promise to give medical aid to prisoners

On the day that the Burmese Democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, celebrates her 63rd birthday, Amnesty International called on the country’s ruling military junta to release two prisoners of conscience who need urgent medical attention.

Myo Yan Naung Thein is partly paralysed after being tortured and is held in solitary confinement in poor conditions. His trial was today – a trial he was unable to attend due to his health. U Ohn Than has contracted cerebral malaria, which if untreated, is almost always fatal.

Myo Yan Naung Thein is a member of the 1988 Generation Students group which played a leading role in last autumn’s so-called Saffron Revolution. He was arrested on 14 December because of his links to activists who filmed the demonstration and spoke to media outside the country.

After his arrest, he was tortured by Special Branch police and by members of the government-linked paramilitary group Swan-Ar-Shin. He was severely beaten around the head and abdomen. His head injuries led to paralysis down the left side of his body and he can no longer walk unaided.

U Ohn Than was sentenced to life imprisonment on 2 April, after a grossly unfair trial. He was punished for staging a solo protest against the Burmese government in front of the US Embassy in Rangoon on 23 August 2007.

He is suffering from cerebral malaria, which is said to be at an advanced stage. The disease has a high fatality rate. In an attempt to cover up the critical state of his health, prison authorities reportedly wrote to U Ohn Than's family in his name, saying that he no longer needed visitors and requesting that they transfer money to him instead.

Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen, said:

“The Burmese government recently made a promise to the United Nations that any prisoner who needs special medical treatment would get it. These cases expose that lie.

“These cases reflect the totally inadequate state of healthcare in Burmese prisons as well as the prevalence of torture and ill-treatment.

“Amnesty is calling on all its members worldwide to write to the Burmese authorities demanding their immediate release of Myo Yan Naung Thein and U Ohn Than.”

Myo Yan Naung Thein’s request to see a neurologist has been denied, and instead he has been punished by being placed in solitary confinement in a cell specially designed to hold prisoners with psychological problems – real or purported – in Insein prison in the former capital, Rangoon. The cell was damaged in the recent cyclone and rain now comes in through the leaking roof.

U Ohn Than was initially held in Insein prison, but after sentencing he has been moved three times. He is now in Khamti prison in Sagaing Division in the north-western Burma. Khamti prison is said to be in an area where malaria is very common, and prisoners are vulnerable to infection. Political prisoners in Burma are often sent to prisons in remote parts of the country to deprive them of family contact. Since his detention, U Ohn Than has also suffered from hypertension and kidney stone problems.

Well-known for his solo protests, U Ohn Than is a prisoner of conscience who had already spent at least 14 years in jail before he received a life sentence for his peaceful political activities in April. During his protest in front of the US embassy in Rangoon, he was dressed in a prisoner uniform, to illustrate the point that Burmese people are prisoners in their own country.

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