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Families Fear for Hunger Strikers

Irrawaddy

Insein Prison, situated in the northwestern suburbs of Rangoon, is the current site of a hunger strike by 15 political prisoners.

Family members of the 15 political prisoners who have been on hunger strike in Rangoon's Insein Prison since Wednesday say they are anxious for the health and the lives of their loved ones.

The 15 political dissidents said they are refusing to eat until they and all other political prisoners are afforded the same terms as criminal prisoners who are automatically given one-third off their sentences in return for good behavior.

Prison authorities have banned relatives of the hunger strikers from visiting and from sending personal supplies, including water and medicine, to the dissidents.

On Thursday, prison wardens stopped issuing the 15 with drinking water, and on Saturday eight of the group were transferred to holding cells that are otherwise used as kennels for guard dogs.

One of hunger strikers' family members told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the prison officials didn’t give them an exact reason for the ban on supplies.

“I asked several members of staff at the prison, but all they would say is that the dissidents had been involved in other crimes inside Insein,” she said. “We tried to see the head of the prison, but he wouldn't meet us.”

One of the hunger strikers, Nyi Nyi Tun, a writer and the editor for the Kantarawaddy News Journal, is reported to be suffering from severe pain as a consequence of beatings sustained during interrogation. In January 2010 he was sentenced to 13 years on media-related charges—including having contact with an exile news group and using electronic media without permission.

Ohmar, the wife of hunger striker Soe Moe Tun, said that she is very worried for her husband.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Ohmar said, “I have to go and visit my husband this Thursday as per the schedule. All I can say is that I’m very worried for him.”

Nyi Nyi Tun and Soe Moe Tun were also involved in a hunger strike at the prison in May.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports have come in that several hunger strikers have been sent to the prison hospital for medical attention.

Aung Zaw Tun, the spokesman for a network that assists the families of political prisoners, said that his organization is trying to get news from the hunger strikers, but as Sunday and Monday are not visiting days, no one has been able to provide an update recently.

He told The Irrawaddy on Monday that “the case of the political prisoners is a sensitive issue for the authorities. What we can confirm is that eight of the hunger strikers were sent to the military dog cells, and that the authorities banned their supply of drinking water since the day after the hunger strike began.”

Bo Kyi, the joint-secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, said that about 1,600 political prisoners remain behind bars across the country.

“They need to be recognized as prisoners of conscience,” he said. “The Burmese prison authorities usually crack down brutally on striking prisoners, so we are worried for their lives.”

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