Hunger Strike Raises Health Concerns for Detained Activists

By Nyein Nyein 19 December 2013

RANGOON — Family members are concerned about the health of three farmers’ rights activists who started a hunger strike nearly one week ago to protest their detention in prison.

The three activists—Myint Myint Aye, Khin Mi Mi Khaing and Thant Zin Htet—stopped eating last Friday after being detained for more than six months without a verdict. They say they will continue the strike until the court makes a decision.

They were detained in mid-June for assisting farmers whose lands were confiscated in Nattalin Township, Pegu Division, and they have attended 19 hearings since then, with another scheduled next week. They are all being charged with violating the Law Relating to Forming Organizations, and Thant Zin Htet is being charged with violating the Peaceful Assembly Law.

“They began the protest last Friday, and we called the prison to ask about their condition,” Han Su Yin, the niece of Myint Myint Aye, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “The prison staff told us they have not eaten any food. …We are worried about their health as the cold weather approaches.”

She said her aunt had long suffered from periodic paralysis of her facial muscles but had not received a diagnosis explaining the cause, and that the paralysis had returned during detention.

Family members said they had not been permitted to visit the activists, to assess their condition first hand.

“The doctor at the prison said on Monday that they were weak after four days of protest. But I know my sister will not accept medicine—she said she would not,” said Aye Mee, the sister of Khin Mi Mi Khaing, who, like the other two activists, is being held in Paungtae Prison.

The 44-year-old Khin Mi Mi Khaing, from Rangoon, had ovarian surgery three years ago. “She also has hypertension and is taking medicine on a regular basis,” said her sister, adding that the prison prohibited visits because Khin Mi Mi Khaing “broke the rules by doing a hunger strike.”

The third activist, Thet Zin Htet, a second-year university student, has also reported stomachaches since beginning the hunger strike, said Aye Mee. His family could not be reached for comment.

Farmers from Nattalin and nearby Zeekone townships have joined the activists’ families in submitting letters to President Thein Sein urging him to ensure a quick and fair trial. They have also sent letters to the speakers of Parliament, the chief minister and attorney general of Pegu Division, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“They have been detained and kept in prison for over 180 days, but there is no decision for them yet,” said Zaw Yen, leader of the Nattalin Farmers Network.

Myint Myint Aye is a leader of the Meikhtila People’s Network in Mandalay. She has campaigned on behalf of farmers whose lands were confiscated by private companies, authorities or the military in Mandalay and Pegu divisions. Along with four members of the Meikhtila network and seven farmers, she has been undergoing trial since last year in a separate court for allegedly trespassing, destroying property, stealing, and supporting the farmers in illegal acts.

That trial at Wun Twin Township court in Mandalay continued with a hearing on Thursday, according to Myint Myint Aye’s nephew.