RANGOON — Students arrested after the Mar. 10 Letpadan protest crackdown have requested their trials to be opened to the public for future hearings and say that some detainees are in need of medical attention, according to family members.
The first hearing for 69 protesters was held on Mar. 25 at the local court in Letpadan, with family members barred from attending. The demonstrators will not appear in court again until next Tuesday.
“My daughter told me during my prison visit on Wednesday that the trial should be opened to the public for family members as well as to the media,” Thanda Khin, the mother of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) leader Phyoe Phyoe Aung, told The Irrawaddy. “She told me that she wants the hearing to be done continuously [rather than fortnightly] and in public. She thinks that authorities are just wasting time by scheduling the hearing every two weeks.”
She added that the detained students looked pale and weak due to the lack of adequate nutrition from the food at Thayawady Prison, and based on the past experience of imprisoned family members, she was concerned for her daughter’s health.
Phyoe Phyoe Aung’s father was imprisoned between 1989 and 2005, leaving Thanda Khin as the sole carer of her 9-month-old daughter. In 2008, both Phyoe Phyoe Aung and her father were arrested for assisting in the burial of corpses left in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which ultimately claimed 140,000 lives after a stalled emergency response from the government.
Thanda Khin told The Irrawaddy she was not hopeful about the prospects for a public trial given her experiences in 1989 and 2008, when her loved ones were convicted behind closed doors.
Khin Khin Yu, the mother of student leader Min Thway Thit, who claims he was beaten by more than a dozen police officers during the crackdown, told The Irrawaddy that she wants her son to receive proper treatment at the prison’s hospital.
“I am worried about him,” she said. “He was struck on his head and his hands. He was vomiting on the police truck when he was brought for the first trial last week.”
Both student leaders say there are other detainees in need of medical attention, according to their parents.
127 people were arrested after the Mar. 10 crackdown. In the following weeks, police arrested other ABSFU leaders to stand trial in Letpadan. Authorities drew a distinction between ‘genuine students’ and political activists in granting the release of around half of the detainees in late March.
The only son of Khin Khin Yu’s three children, 32-year-old Min Thway Thit has yet to complete his university studies. His mother said he had lost the documentation necessary to prove his current enrolment, which he was carrying in a bag during the chaotic aftermath of the police attack on the protesters.
Family members are allowed to meet the detainees for 5-15 minutes during weekly prison visits, held on Wednesdays and Thursdays under the supervision of at least five prison officers. Visitors said that their conversations with the prisoners, separated by iron bars and glass, are written down and recorded and their gestures and movements are closely scrutinized.
“The policewomen told us to have a quick chat, so we could not say much,” said Thanda Khin, recalling an encounter with her daughter at Thayawady last week. “We just looked at each other and exchanged smiles.”