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Activist on hunger strike, still detained over prayer vigil for Suu Kyi's release; junta frees 51 others

(Mizzima/IFEX) - The following is a statement from Mizzima News, an interim member of IFEX:

Junta frees 51 activists arrested over Suu Kyi prayer vigil; HIV activist still detained

On 27 June 2007, the Burmese military junta freed 51 of the 52 activists who were arrested in Rangoon in May for organising a prayer campaign for the release of detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, HIV activist Phyu Phyu Thinn, who is asthmatic, continues to be held.

The 51 were released from different detention centres - Hmawbe, Kyaik Ka San, Thike Gy and Kyuak Than - said Myint Thein, spokesperson of Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, National League for Democracy (NLD), whose landslide victory in the 1990 general elections was never recognised by the junta.

Phyu Phyu Thinn was picked up from her home on 21 May for police interrogation. She is believed to be held in the Kyaik Ka San interrogation camp.

Her family is worried as she has reportedly become extremely weak after starting a hunger strike on 19 June, and had fallen on the fifth day of her strike. Yet the authorities have not given her proper care, reliable sources told "Mizzima News", a web-based daily run by exiled Burmese journalists in New Delhi, India.

"We are concerned about her health and demand she be released as it would help her gain strength if she is cared for outside. Fellow detainees released told us that Phyu Phyu Thinn is very weak," Myint Thein said.

On 1 May, the NLD and other activists in Rangoon launched a month-long prayer campaign for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. The campaign was to end symbolically on 30 May, the fourth anniversary of the Depayin Massacre, in which some 100 people linked with the NLD may have been killed by a junta-sponsored mob.

Lacking recourse in the highly repressive country, where to mention support of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate whom the junta calls "a national security threat" is to invite arrest, activists thought they could use prayer gatherings in the predominantly Buddhist nation to call for her release, and organised them at various pagodas in the former capital Rangoon.

At first, they were unhindered. However, as the vigils gathered momentum, the authorities started clamping down, detaining more than 50 activists in separate arrests, which intensified in the days prior to the 27 May review of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest.

The authorities also sponsored civilians to arrest, attack and harass the prayer participants to show the public and the international community that the people themselves are apparently rejecting Aung San Suu Kyi and her cause.

On 25 May, 30 NLD members were attacked by 15 military personnel and members of the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA), a "non-governmental organisation" whose patron is junta head Senior General Than Shwe, in the Kyaukhtutgyi pagoda in Bahan Township. Lae Lae Win Swe, the secretary of Tarmwe USDA, was among those who led the attack.

"Those who were praying were calm and patient, but four or five of them were first assaulted just after they finished praying. Buddhist monks helped to free them from the attackers," an eyewitness told "Mizzima".

The attackers hurled invectives such as "destructive elements" and "stooges" at those praying, who wore T-shirts with pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi and her late husband Michel Aris as a visual statement of their support.

On 15 May, a civilian mob arrested 30 activists in two Rangoon townships. A group of 12 had planned a four-hour march from Mee Gwet market in Hlaing Thar Yar Township to the famous Shwe Dagon Pagoda, while some 20 people led by labour rights activist Su Su Nwe were on their way to the Kyauk Daw Gyi Pagoda in Insein Township.

"These groups (of prayer participants) were stopped and handed over to the authorities by people who oppose unrest and love peace," said a report in the state-run media "New Light on Myanmar".

The following day, a mob believed to consist of members of the local authority arrested at least 15 more people who visited the Kayik Ka Lo Pagoda in Mingaladon Township and took them to the Kyaik Ka San interrogation camp to join those arrested on 15 May. However, they were later released as there was no holding space left.

Heads of township and district authorities have also organised groups dressed in civilian clothing to attack prayer participants, gathering 20 people from each township and paying them up to Kyats 2,000 (US$0.85), with lunch provided. Local police staff, fire fighters, USDA members, the junta-backed Swan Ah Shin group, lottery salespersons and the unemployed comprised most of these hired guns. Catapults, sticks and iron darts were among the weapons encouraged.

On 11 June, five women from the Zeegone Township NLD in Pegu division were rained with stones by three unidentified men upon their return from the Mya Thein Than pagoda.

Daw Khin Wyne, the Zeegone NLD chairperson, said the men were lying in wait for them on the Rangoon-Pyay highway. A Special Branch police officer witnessed the attack but did nothing to prevent it and left. A subsequent request to the local authorities for protection and assistance was denied; instead, the women were threatened and told to stop going to the prayer vigils.

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