International Women’s Day: 177 women endure violence and abuse in Burmese prisons
Today, 8 March, International Women’s Day, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma), a dissident Burmese group, released a brief on the mistreatment of women involved in the fight for political and civil rights in Myanmar. According to AAPP, 177 women are in prison for political reasons, ages ranging from 21 to 68. Three of them suffer from acute health problems but the authorities have denied them proper medical care. Others are behind bars for the simple reason that they are the daughters, sisters or wives of men fighting for democracy.
For AAPP secretary Tate Naing, “these women are a powerful force for the future of Burma. They need to be treated with respect and dignity and released immediately”. They play a key role in the country’s pro-democracy movement and “will continue to make valuable contributions.”
The brief describes how women are interrogated, tortured, subjected to psychological violence and rape. It presents the case of Ma Ma Cherry, an invented name, a woman who spent 11 years in prison. In that period, she suffered major heart problems, and yet the authorities refused her outside medical treatment.
In addition to heart problems, Ma Ma Cherry experienced severe dysentery on a number of occasions, one of her worst experiences in prison. She has also vomited blood and been examined for TB. Because of the conditions in which she has to survive, she had a bout with depression over a two-year period.
Political prisoners are in principle entitled to a separate section, but in fact are treated like common criminals, abused sometimes by prison guards and other inmates.
Women prisoners are of different ethnic background: Burmese, Karen and (Muslim) Rohingya. They are denied access to their children, usually left with grandmothers or other relatives, under the close watch of the military.
Women activists who helped residents of the Irrawaddy Delta affected by devastating cyclone Nargis in May 2008 are also among the prisoners.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the only Nobel Prize laureate still under arrest for thought crimes, is one of the 177 prisoners. Daughter of the country’s founding father and hero of the struggle for national independence, she has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. She too has health problems but continues her silent and peaceful struggle for peace and democracy in Myanmar.