Burma: Christian prisoner released after hunger strike

 A prominent Christian political prisoner has been released from prison in Burma after staging a hunger strike to draw international attention to inhumane prison conditions and the persistent violations of fundamental human rights. Dr Salai Tun Than, 75, started a week long hunger strike from his bed in Insein Prison Hospital, Rangoon, on Sunday April 27, to protest against the conditions at Insein and other prisons in Burma which persistently fail to meet the UN's Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. According to sources close to Dr Salai Tun Than, the professor maintained that he and a handful of political prisoners who had been allowed by the Burmese military junta to meet with delegations from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Human Rights were interrogated by prison guards and Military Intelligence personnel, contrary to international norms, after each of these meetings. The professor also claimed that prison guards and Military Intelligence personnel monitored and recorded all conversations made during the brief periods of family visits. Dr Salai Tun Than also claimed that his freedom to practise his Christian faith was severely curtailed. The prison authorities reportedly denied him access to a Bible and refused to grant him permission to take Holy Communion inside the prison. The professor's action has set off a new wave of protests in the US and in Europe. Bowing to mounting international pressure, the military dictatorship released the professor and 17 other political prisoners on Sunday. In a government statement, the military junta claimed "the releases are the latest in a series of efforts by the government to move Myanmar closer to multiparty democracy and national reconciliation." However, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that the release of Dr Salai Tun Than and the others was strictly on condition that they refrain from engaging in future political activities. On hearing of the professor's hunger strike, CSW raised his case with European foreign ministries, the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and other relevant bodies. A spokesman for CSW said: "The release of Dr Salai Tun Than and 17 other political prisoners, and indeed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi a year ago, are clear examples that the military regime of Burma responds well to concerted international pressure." "For the sake of the thousands of prisoners in Burma's prisons and the hundred of thousands of internally displaced ethnic people struggling to survive in Burma's jungles, the international community must continue to apply diplomatic and economic pressures until there are real and sustained changes in the country." Source: Ekklesia/CSW

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