Asia-Pacific

Burma prisoners on hunger strike at Insein jail

Prisoners at Insein jail, 17 May 2011
Image caption Conditions in Burma's jails are often criticised by rights groups

A group of Burmese political prisoners has staged a hunger strike to demand better living conditions.

A lawyer told the BBC's Burmese Service that 22 prisoners started a protest on Saturday at Insein jail, in Rangoon.

The authorities have already taken action against the prisoners - putting some in solitary confinement, and threatening to move others from Insein.

Meanwhile, the UN's rights envoy says abuses are still widespread, despite an overhaul of the political system.

Earlier this year, the Burmese military oversaw a transition to civilian government after four decades of army rule.

Food shortages

Many of the current administration's leaders are ex-military officers and members of the old regime, but the government has expressed a desire to be more democratic.

Last week, it announced a prisoner amnesty and freed thousands of inmates - but only 47 of them were political prisoners.

Analysts say the failure to free political prisoners has contributed to the protest at Insein.

Kyaw Hoe, who represents some of the prisoners, told the BBC that five of the protesters had been put into solitary confinement.

He said the rest of them would be sent to other jails - which are likely to be in rural areas far from Rangoon to ensure their lawyers and families cannot visit them.

The political prisoners are protesting because they say they need more food, clothes and blankets.

They also say they are discriminated against because their families are not allowed the same visiting rights as the relatives of other inmates.

Rights groups say Burma still holds more than 2,000 political prisoners.

The UN's rights envoy to Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, criticised last week's amnesty as a disappointment.

Mr Quintana, who was refused permission to visit Burma, accused the government of failing to address abuses such as confiscation of land from ethnic minorities, forced labour, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence.

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