Dying Behind Bars
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FEATURE

Dying Behind Bars


By HPYO WAI THA / THE IRRAWADDY Thursday, February 9, 2012


Marlar Nwe sits beside a portrait of her brother Thet Nwe (Photo: Hpyo Wai Tha).
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During his detention, he was admitted to the Rangoon General Hospital for his frequent blackouts and also received treatment at a psychiatric hospital on two occasions, according to his sister.

Because of his declining health and acts of defiance towards the prison authorities, he was confined to a cell in a special ward of the Insein Prison hospital until his release. The ward was used for inmates suffering from everything from mental illness to communicable diseases such as leprosy, according to a friend who used to spend some time with Thet Nwe in the prison. 

Burmese prisons rarely send inmates, especially political prisoners, to outside hospitals because prison authorities think it would damage their prison's image. Only when the prison doctor is completely unable to provide treatment because of a lack of medical equipment inside the prison will the authorities reluctantly send an inmate to a proper hospital, according to Han Win Aung, a former political prisoner who spent three months in a prison hospital receiving treatment for tuberculosis.

“If an inmate was allowed to see a doctor outside, it was taken for granted that he was going to die, because it was already too late for him to be cured,” he added.

Burmese prisons are infamous for their poor health care systems. Insein Prison, one of the biggest in the country with thousands of inmates, has only one understaffed 50-bed hospital.

“If there's an emergency case, doctors never arrive in time. They always take at least an hour,” said a former political prisoner in his thirties who was discharged from Insein Prison in January.

“There are only three or four doctors for the whole prison, so they ask some prisoners to act as their assistants, without ever giving them proper training,” said Han Win Aung, who recalled being scared to death when an HIV-positive inmate was preparing to give him an injection for his tuberculosis.

“I asked another prisoner to do it for me,” he said. “I received 92 TB shots over three months, but never from the doctor's assistant with HIV.”

Sometimes the number of patients in the 50-bed hospital rose to 10 times its capacity, said one 35-year-old former political prisoner.

“Everything was in a chaos. Patients were lying on the concrete floor. Doctors were nowhere to be seen. I saw 12 people die in a single week,” he said.

Some other prisons in the country have no hospital at all, so inmates have to rely on “clinics” stocked with little more than over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol and mild sedatives like “Burmeton” (Chlorphenamine).

“Some of the tablets were so old that they were covered with mold,” said Arkar Boh, who was released from Kyaukphyu Prison in Arakan State last October.

“I used to stay in a cramped cell together with inmates infected with TB and HIV,” said Ye Thu Ko, 27, who was released from Pegu Prison a few months ago, explaining why he was standing in the reception area of Thukha Charity Clinic in northern Rangoon holding a chest x-ray.

“The doctor has just told me that I have hepatitis C. I've heard there's no cure for it. I have to say it's a gift from Insein,” said Saw Maung, 31, a former political prisoner released from Insein Prison on Jan. 13.

According to Dr Ohn Myint, a physician who has been treating ex-political prisoners at the clinic for the past three years, liver dysfunction is one of the most common ailments afflicting former inmates of Burma's prison system.

“Most of the people coming here also have tuberculosis. Others have infectious diseases like scabies,” he said. “Medical care in prisons is so poor that it's no wonder people come out with those diseases.”

Spending years behind bars can also take a toll on prisoners' mental health.

“Now I hate padlocks,” said Ye Khaung, 34, of Generation Wave, who was detained for three years in Thayat Prison, 545 kilometers north of Rangoon. “When I wake up, I have to force myself to open my eyes, because I'm always afraid that when I open them, I will find myself back in prison. I can never shake this subconscious feeling of insecurity.”

“I'm frightened whenever I hear a door slam, because it's a sound I heard every time they locked us up in our cells,” said Ye Thu Ko.

In Burma, a jailer has absolute power over every aspect of a prison life.

“The warden is like a god in prison. You can't do anything without his approval,” said Arkar Boh, who recalled seeing how a good-natured prison doctor's efforts to help sick prisoners were frustrated by an uncooperative prison warden.

But perhaps there is a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.

“All I can say is that I'm trying to upgrade the prisoners' welfare and health care system. While the government is on the road to reform, I feel obliged to do what I can within my capacity,” said the warden of a prison in western Burma, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue of prison reforms.

Had Thet Nwe been detained in prison where the welfare of inmates mattered, his fate might have been very different.



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COMMENTS (5)
 
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Ohn Wrote:
15/02/2012
There are thousands of the like of this hero. It does not make his and his family's suffering any less.

Sad that apart from this man, Bo Kyi, if anybody else is really giving attention to their sufferings, it is not obvious.

NO one should suffer like him. Buddhist country!!!

khin Wrote:
11/02/2012
It is sad to read these stories.I wish all Burmese people have peace and be kind to each other. The majority of Burmese people have kind heart but I don't understand why some people are so cruel.My prayers go to all who suffer from torture.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
10/02/2012
How very sad. Heart rending. The passing away of a Burman fighting for freedon diminishes us all.

Burmese criminals must be tried by independent Burmese courts.

It was ShuMaung,KhinNyunt,Buthcer of Rangoon SeinLwin were the evil trio. and what about the national debt that piled up during the BSPP regime?

Fight for 1.sovereignty 2 territorial integrity, and 3 unity. To deliver freedom and justice to all under independent judiciary.

Ashin Than-Shwe had to struggle within the system whilst trying to maintain the 3 items above.

Marty Myanmar Wrote:
10/02/2012
I guess that we shall be patient with these things. But we will not forget.

The time will come when all responsible will be called to answer for the things done to people like Ko Thet Nwe who endure the suffering so all of us might have a better life.

They paid the ultimate price of democracy so all of us can have a better life.

Thank you Ko Thet Nwe, we will not forget you.

Dear Ma Mee, our words cannot assuage the grief that you feel, but please be sure that there will be eternal respect for your brother and those responsible will be called to justice somewhere in the future.

Myanmar's democracy was bought with the high price of lives of her's sons and daughters.
We will never forget and we will make sure that future generations also learn and remember.

Min Min Wrote:
10/02/2012
Ko Thet Nwe released after suffering 10 yr’s torturing and died 9 days after. You can imagine the crimes these tyrants committed. So many PP like Ko Thet Nwe were dying behind bars.

Burmese tyrants, including K-Nyunt ruled country by bullying, jailing and corruption. Use systematic killings, raping and torturing as tools.

Today, Kyant Phunt tries to delay reforms for preventing War Crime probe. However, UN mandate is a “must” to conduct such probe for each and every tyrant/crony committed, unless the current govt carry out the probe itself under UN guidelines (similar to Cambodia).

Quintana told reporters: "I must stress that moving forward cannot ignore or whitewash what happened in the past". He clearly pointed out the reforms done with flying color by TSein govt did not mean serious rights violations had taken place by TShwe and group would be forgotten and ensured a long-term stability in the nation of 60 million people.

We pay highest salute to KTN and other Patriots.

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