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Family visits banned for Letpadan activists

File photo: Detained students and activists arrive at Tharawaddy township court for their hearing on 30 April 2015. (PHOTO: DVB)

Thirty-five activists facing charges for their involvement in the Letpadan education protest have been banned from receiving visits in Tharawaddy prison amid allegations of family members smuggling prohibited items to their loved ones in jail.

According to local resident and activist supporter, Kyaw Naing Oo, the Tharawaddy prisoners were discovered carrying cigarettes and betel quid, a cigarette substitute comprised of ground areca nut, tobacco and lime wrapped in a betel leaf, as they were returning from a court hearing on 16 June.

“After the court hearing last Tuesday, the students brought back cigarettes. For that, the officials accused them of bringing prohibited items into the prison and sought disciplinary action against them,” said Kyaw Naing Oo on Wednesday.

“The director-general’s office instructed a ban on family visits effective as of today.”

Robert San Aung, the activists’ lawyer, slammed the authorities for violating his clients’ prisoner rights.

“According to the prison manual, the prison authorities are to provide the prisoners with cigarettes,” said the lawyer.

“When I was detained back in 2008, there was a fire in the prison and the director-general’s office decided to ban cigarettes, but we were allowed betel quid as a replacement, and the prison bought some for the inmates.”

“I was released in 2010 and as of then, the prisoners were still allowed betel quid but now the officials are saying it is a ‘prohibited item’. I view this as an obstruction of personal freedom and a violation of human rights.”

Robert San Aung also said that prison inmates caught with prohibited items are usually punished with a two-week visit ban.

On Wednesday, students’ family members who went to the prison to visit their loved ones were denied permission to see them.

One-hundred and twenty-seven students and activists were detained in a violent police crackdown of Letpadan education protest on 10 March.