Jailed Students on Hunger Strike Facing Health Woes

By Zarni Mann 11 November 2015

MANDALAY — A hunger strike by a group of students and supporters in protest of the continued incarceration of political prisoners in Burma is beginning to take its toll on the participants’ health, with one student admitted to Rangoon General Hospital on Wednesday.

Phyo Dana, who had been staging his hunger strike for about nine days, was admitted to the hospital suffering gastrointestinal problems, such as blood in his stool, that required urgent medical care, according to family members of the detained.

Than Htike, who has asthma, and Mar Naw and Kyaw Zwa Lin, who were suffering from hematemesis or vomiting of blood, have decided to end their hunger strike due to health concerns.

“They are in such a severe condition that they decided to stop the strike and because their families are worried too. Another one, Swe Lin Tun, is also very weak and unable to maintain the strike. However, he still refuses to take medicine or food,” said a friend of the students who went to the Tharrawaddy courthouse to meet the detainees on Wednesday, when they appeared on court.

Aung Hmein San, who initiated the hunger strike on Oct. 23, is maintaining his protest, along with eight others who joined him in early November. He began his strike one week after a deadline he had set for President Thein Sein to release prisoners of conscience nationwide, an ultimatum that went unheeded by the government.

“He has lost some weight but is still in good shape and has had no serious health problems yet,” said Lei Lei Nwae, the wife of Aung Hmein San. “I think it is his spirit that keeps him strong.”

After a brief court appearance on Wednesday, the students were sent back to the Tharrawaddy Prison hospital. Their next hearing has been set for Nov. 17.

“I wonder why the government is so silent and is neglecting the students,” Lei Lei Nwae added. “If they really want to be considered a democratic country, holding an election alone is not enough, without releasing the students and [other] political prisoners.”

Soe Hlaing and Si Thu Myat, two students from Myin Chan Prison in Mandalay, also joined the hunger strike in early November, in a show of solidarity with their fellow students in Tharrawaddy Prison. Their current health conditions are unknown because their families have not been allowed to meet with them since their hunger strike began.

“We are still waiting to meet with them, but the prison authorities are not allowing us. We are now so worried for them,” said Yay Aye, a close family member of Soe Hlaing, on Wednesday. “If they don’t allow us to meet today, we have to wait till tomorrow when they will have to appear in court.”

All of the students involved in the hunger strike were jailed for their involvement in a protest movement earlier this year against a controversial new National Education Law that was broken up violently by police in Letpadan Township, which neighbors Tharrawaddy.