Marylander in a Burmese Jail: “Military Dog Confinement”
There are reports out today in The Irrawaddy and The Democratic Voice of Burma that Kyaw Zaw Lwin, the U.S. citizen and Maryland resident who has been held in a Burmese prison since September 3rd, has been in what’s known as “military dog confinement” since at least December 7. The move is apparently a response to the Zaw Lwin’s hunger strike. Beth Schwanke, Legislative Counsel for Freedom Now, a human rights group that is providing legal and advocacy assistance in Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s case, told Maryland Morning that this type of confinment means prisoners are kept in an eight-by-ten-foot cell with no lighting, no bathroom, no mattress, and no reading materials. “There are dogs directly across from the cells that constantly bark at incredibly high volumes. So this is leading to sleep deprivation, which absolutely rises to the level of cruel, inhuman, and unusual punishment,” Schwanke said.
Freedom Now has submitted an appeal to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. The Special Rapporteur could decide in the next few days on the appeal and, if he finds that Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s treatment does constitute cruel, inhuman, and unusual punishment as defined by customary international law, could write a letter to the Burmese government to this effect. Schwanke hopes the appeal and whatever action the Special Rapporteur takes will encourage U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the issue at the highest levels of Burmese government. Secretary Clinton hasn’t spoken publicly about Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s case , and the State Department has been largely silent about it.
On Friday, before news of his solitary confinement came out, a letter signed by 53 members of the U.S. House of Representatives was circulated calling on Than Shwe, head of Myanmar’s military government, to release Kyaw Zaw Lwin immediately.The letter outlines the ways that Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s treatment has been illegal by both Burmese and international legal standards and closes by saying:
“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Aung [Kyaw Zaw Lwin's family name] and allow him to return to the United States. We believe that the way to move forward for Burma and for our bilateral relations is to release all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and begin the process of genuine political reconciliation before next year’s election.”
Two members of Maryland’s delegation, Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen, signed the letter. Freedom Now has a copy of the letter on their website.