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Burma Prisoner Attacked Over Complaint of Inhuman Conditions

Burma: Prisoner attacked over complaint of inhuman conditions

A recent case that has come to attention of the Asian Human Rights Commission is a stark reminder of the inhuman conditions under which tens of thousands of prisoners in Burma, many of them prisoners of conscience, are struggling to survive. According to information obtained and confirmed by the AHRC, a person who is currently serving his sentence in Pyapon Prison, Irrawaddy Division was attacked on the night of November 12. While reading in his cell, some powder was thrown into Shwe Maung's face, stinging his eyes. Despite calling for assistance he received no medical attention that night.

It was not until 10am the following morning when he received medical treatment from the prison doctor but there was no improvement to his eyes. He was sent to a hospital outside of the prison. According to the doctor outside, due to the delay in receiving treatment his condition will be difficult to cure. His cornea has been injured, and his eyes were completely red and bigger than normal. The doctor could not identify the substance that caused the injury.

The attack followed a complaint that Shwe Maung made about the conditions of the prison, to which the authorities transferred him in 2009, and how he was being treated. When his wife came to see him on 27 October 2010, he told her about the difficulty he had breathing due to the smell of human excreta inside his cell. Furthermore, he mentioned how the guards throw burned excreta in his direction to make him sneeze. In addition, the guards make noise intentionally at night so that he cannot sleep.

Despite his complaints directed to the warden of the jail, the director of prisons for Irrawaddy Division, the director general of prisons, and the minister of home affairs, no action followed--apart, that is, from the night-time attack. Then, on November 25 the divisional director visited the prison. But instead of investigating the complaint, he instead had Shwe Maung brought to the warden's office where he yelled obscenities at him for making the complaint.

Shwe Maung--who was sentenced to eight years in jail at a closed court inside the central prison, Insein on 14 November 2008 under section 13(1) of the Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, upsetting public tranquility under section 505(b) of the Penal Code and section 295(a), insulting religion, all for his part in the September 2007 monk-led protests against military rule in Burma--is also suffering from backaches due to injuries from torture he suffered in a detention centre prior to his imprisonment, and from malnourishment.

The appalling conditions inside Burma's prisons have long been a subject of concern for relatives of detainees and human rights defenders. The AHRC has in recent years made numerous interventions on the lack of medical treatment for ailing prisoners. Often ill health is associated with the transfer of detainees, especially political detainees, to remote prisons far from loved ones, who are not able to take regularly the food and medicines that inmates desperately need. Other detainees have suffered injuries before arrest for which they have not been adequately treated, if at all, once inside. But this case is particularly diabolical because the victim has been denied prompt and adequate treatment for what appears to be a serious injury sustained while in the prison itself, due to an attack that was apparently carried out by prison guards, or by someone at their behest.

As Shwe Maung is in the custody of the authorities in Burma, those authorities have a duty of care for him. Under section 37 of the Prisons Act, the failure of the jailors to report immediately his calls for medical attention to the prison doctor amount to a violation of law. Furthermore, the conditions under which he is being held amount to cruel and inhuman treatment under the United Nations Convention against Torture, and he had every reason to complain about them and expect for his complaint to be taken seriously, in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which in section 36 holds that,

"(3) Every prisoner shall be allowed to make a request or complaint, without censorship as to substance but in proper form, to the central prison administration, the judicial authority or other proper authorities through approved channels. (4) Unless it is evidently frivolous or groundless, every request or complaint shall be promptly dealt with and replied to without undue delay."

Accordingly, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on all concerned agencies and individuals, especially the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar (Burma), the International Committee of the Red Cross, and diplomatic missions in the country and their governments abroad to take up the case of Shwe Maung at the highest levels, so that he obtain the best possible medical treatment; so that his complaints are investigated and taken seriously; so that the attack on him is investigated and the perpetrators held to account; so that the divisional director of prisons is disciplined for his further verbal attack on the detainee and his lack of action to investigate the complaint, and so that the conditions at Pyapon Prison--not only for Shwe Maung but for all detainees--are thoroughly examined and improved so as to come up to minimum international standards within the shortest possible time.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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