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Burma 13 November 2008

Jailed poet gets HIV virus from forcible injection in Insein prison

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association are appalled to learn that detained poet Aung Than, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy, was probably infected with the HIV virus when he was forcibly injected in Insein prison hospital two years ago. Several people, including his mother, have told the two organisations that he is now in a critical condition.

"This shocking news highlights not only the military government’s criminal nature but also the disastrous health conditions in Burma’s prisons," the two partner organisations said. "Aung Than’s health is getting worse by the day and we call for his immediate release so that he can receive appropriate treatment."

The organisations added: "We also urge the international community to press for the International Committee of the Red Cross to be allowed to visit Burma’s prisons as it was from 1999 to the end of 2005."

Aung Than’s mother, Daw Khin Si, and one of his friends told Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association that Aung Than was admitted to the Insein prison hospital in October 2006 with a prostate problem. While he was there, a member of the hospital staff who was not a doctor wanted to give him an injection. Seeing that the needle was used and knowing that cases of contamination were frequent in Insein prison, Aung Than refused, whereupon the hospital employee injected him by force.

A few months later, his family noticed that his immune system did not seem to be working properly. He had repeated fevers, skin ailments and frequent colds. Concerned about his state of health, he asked to be tested but this was refused. Fellow detainees, who include doctors, say his symptoms are typical of someone with AIDS. Aung Than is certain that he was infected since being imprisoned.

Forcible injections are common in Insein prison. A friend of a Burma Media Association member died of AIDS in prison after being injected by force.

Aged 36, Aung Than was sentenced in June 2006 to 19 years in prison for writing and distributing a collection of poems called "Daung Man" ("The force of the fighting peacock") that was a tribute to Burma’s pro-democracy movement. Three other people from Pegu (north of Rangoon) received prison sentences in the same case: Zeya Aung (a student), Maung Maung Oo (the owner of the press on which the poems were printed) and opposition activist Sein Hlaing.

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