Myanmar activist at risk of torture

An anti-government activist leader in Myanmar remains at risk of torture following her arrest last Wednesday.

Nilar Thein went into hiding more than a year ago after leading some of the initial anti-government protests in August 2007.  She was taken to Aung Tha Pyay Detention Centre in Yangon (Rangoon, Myanmar’s largest city) for interrogation after her arrest and is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Nilar Thein was arrested on her way to visit the mother of Ant Bwe Kyaw, another detained activist, in a suburb of north eastern Yangon. Ant Bwe Kyaw and Kyaw Min Yu, Nilar Thein’s husband (also known as Ko Jimmy), were among 13 anti-government activist leaders from the “88 Generation Students Group” who were arrested on 22 August 2007.

A total of 35 activists from the “88 Generation Students Group” appeared before a court inside Yangon’s Insein prison on 9 September to face a range of politically-motivated charges. Several of the charges they are facing are made under vaguely-worded security laws routinely used to criminalise peaceful political dissent.

The “88 Generation Students Group” is made up of anti-government activists who took part in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising against the then 26 years of military rule.

The day after the 13 anti-government activist leaders of the group were arrested on 22 August 2007, Nilar Thein led around 500 people in a demonstration in Yangon. The demonstration demanded the release of fellow activists and continued the protest against the sudden increase in fuel prices that had been imposed by the state on 15 August 2007.

When authorities began a hunt for the leaders of the protests, Nilar Thein went into hiding. After considering the unhealthy and dangerous conditions of living in hiding, she decided to leave her baby daughter behind in the care of her family.

Rumours began to circulate three weeks after her husband’s arrest on 22 August 2007 that he had died in police custody. The rumours turned out to be false and are believed to have been planted by the government to bring Nilar Thein out of hiding.

Whilst in hiding, Nilar Thein continued to appeal to the international community to take action in resolving the grave human rights situation and the abuses that women suffer under the military regime in Myanmar.  

A year after the violent crackdown on anti-government protests of September 2007, the military leaders in Myanmar are showing no signs that they will relent in their efforts to silence all political dissent. Nearly 300 individuals have been arrested for their peaceful political activities so far in 2008.

Nilar Thein has been imprisoned twice before for her pro-democracy activities. She was detained for two months in 1991. She was arrested in December 1996 for participating in the student demonstrations in Yangon that of that year. She was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and was released in 2005.

Amnesty International is urgently calling on the government of Myanmar to stop making further arrests and to release all those detained or imprisoned merely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, including both long-term and recent prisoners of conscience.