Young Activist Dies in Prison
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Young Activist Dies in Prison

By Aung Lwin Oo Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Student activist and political prisoner Thet Win Aung died o­n Monday from several untreated diseases while serving a 59-year term in Mandalay prison in central Burma, his family said.

“We were informed by officials from the police special branch yesterday evening,” Win Maung, father of the activist told The Irrawaddy o­n Tuesday. “We suffered from the arrest of his brother recently and now this terrible news makes us felt very heartbroken,” the father said, referring to the recent detention of the victim’s brother Pyone Cho, who was arrested in late September with four other activists from the 88 Generation Students group.

Friends and family arrived in Mandalay o­n Tuesday, and Thet Win Aung’s parents requested the release of his body for a family burial in Rangoon and the release of Pyone Cho so that he could attend. Officials refused both requests.

Thet Win Aung was arrested in October 1998 and sentenced to 52 years under the Emergency Provision Act 5 (j) and 17(1-2) of the Unlawful Associations Act. The sentence was later extended by 7 years. At the time, his sentence was the longest ever handed down to a political prisoner in Burma.

Prior to his transfer to Mandalay prison, Thet Win Aung served his sentence in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison, as well as prisons in Khamti and Kalay in Sagaing division, where malaria and other diseases are rampant. He had suffered from several health problems, including heart disease, partial paralysis and malaria.

The father said official medical records show that Thet Win Aung died from heart failure and a swollen liver, but that his son was showing signs of improved health when they last met o­n September 27. “He might have suffered more after hearing the news of his brother’s arrest,” the father said. Thet Win Aung had not been receiving any medical treatment for any of his health problems.

The death of the 34-year-old activist stirred anger at home and abroad. “It is tragic that an innocent life has been lost, and it shows the current conditions among political prisoners in the country,” said Jimmy, a leading member of the 88 Generation Students group.

Currently, no independent body has access to monitor conditions of Burma’s prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross has suspended regular visits to Burma’s prisons following the junta-backed Union Solidarity Development Association’s insistence o­n accompanying relief agency representatives.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) called the incident “murderous.” “He wasn’t yet 30 when he received a nearly 60-year sentence, and with frequent back and forth transfers from o­ne prison to another, it appears that officials were attempting to murder him,” said Tate Naing, secretary of AAPP.

With the death of Thet Win Aung, the number of deaths in custody of the country’s political prisoners stands at 130 since 1988, according to the AAPP.

“We believe that physical and psychological torture inflicted upon his body by his captors shall be the main reason of his untimely death,” said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and policy director of the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma.

Issuing a statement from London o­n Monday, Amnesty International, which has been campaigning for the release of Thet Win Aung, said that it is “deeply concerned by the death in Mandalay prison today of the student leader and prisoner of conscience.”

The funeral service is to be held at Kyarnikan cemetery in Mandalay o­n Tuesday evening. Thet Win Aung is survived by his father Win Maung, mother Mya Mya Win and five brothers.

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