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Imprisoned Myanmar politician dies from COVID-19

Imprisoned Myanmar politician dies from COVID-19

The spokesperson for ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party has died after being infected with the coronavirus in prisonBy GRANT PECK Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 3:38 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBANGKOK — The spokesperson for ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party died Tuesday after being infected with the coronavirus in prison, his lawyer said.Nyan Win had been a member of the National League for Democracy’s Central Executive Committee as well as a confidante of Suu Kyi.Suu Kyi and top members of her party and government, including Nyan Win, were arrested when the military seized power in February. The military-installed government has since arrested thousands of mostly young people who protested its takeover.The death of Nyan Win, 79, came as Myanmar is reeling from soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths that are badly straining the country’s medical infrastructure, already weakened when many state medical workers went on strike to protest the army’s seizure of power.Charity workers and cemetery staff say hundreds of people in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, are dying daily due to suspected cases of COVID-19, particularly from a lack of medical oxygen to help them breathe.The country’s overcrowded prisons are especially susceptible to the spread of the virus, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has done surveys of detention facilities.Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun said Tuesday that 375 people have been confirmed to have COVID-19 in prisons across the country, the Voice on Myanmar online news service reported.Many believe the real number is much higher. Neighboring Thailand has recorded more than 39,000 COVID-19 cases in its prison population since the beginning of April.Health authorities on Tuesday reported 5,860 new COVID-19 cases, bringing Myanmar’s official total since the pandemic began to 240,570. There were 286 new deaths recorded, bringing the total to 5,567.Nyan Win, who was charged with sedition, had been confined in Yangon’s Insein Prison, which for decades has held many prominent political prisoners. Suu Kyi is being held under house arrest at an undisclosed location in the capital, Naypyitaw.He was moved from Insein Prison to Yangon General Hospital’s intensive care unit on July 11 after testing positive for the virus. It is believed he had underlying health problems.Nyan Win’s death was confirmed by his lawyer, San Mar La Nyunt, who said she reached him in a video call Tuesday morning, just minutes before he died.Lawyers for some inmates at Insein Prison told U.S. government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia on Friday that there are about 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases there. The prison began a two-week lockdown on July 8 due to the virus surge.Detained American journalist Danny Fenster, also held in Insein Prison, told his lawyer last week he believes he has COVID-19, but prison authorities deny he is infected. Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, has been charged with incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information.

Lawyer: US editor jailed in Myanmar fears he has COVID-19

Lawyer: US editor jailed in Myanmar fears he has COVID-19

An American journalist detained in Myanmar told his lawyer he believes he has COVID-19, but prison authorities deny he is infectedBy GRANT PECK Associated PressJuly 16, 2021, 3:19 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBANGKOK — An American journalist detained in Myanmar told his lawyer he believes he has COVID-19, but prison authorities deny he is infected.Danny Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.Fenster has been charged with incitement for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The military-installed government that took power in February has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting dozens of journalists.The U.S. government and press freedom associations have been pushing for Fenster’s release.Fenster is being held in Insein Prison as Myanmar faces a coronavirus surge it is ill-equipped to fight, with a public health system in tatters due to the political turmoil that arose in reaction to the military’s ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. It has a very small supply of COVID-19 vaccines.Health authorities on Thursday reported 4,188 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing Myanmar’s official total since the pandemic began last year to 212,545. There were 165 deaths recorded, bringing the total to 4,346.Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, said his client told him during a video hearing that he is infected with the coronavirus and has not received medicines he requested.Insein Prison began a two-week lockdown on July 8 due to the virus surge. Fenster participated in Thursday’s brief pretrial hearing from the prison, while the lawyer took part from a township court.The court ordered Fenster held until another hearing on July 28, his lawyer said. It is unclear when his actual trial will begin.Than Zaw Aung said last month that Fenster is charged in connection with his work at a previous job, as a reporter and copy editor for another online news site, Myanmar Now.Myanmar Now, along with several other media outlets, had its license revoked in early March, banning it from publishing on any platform. However, it has continued its operations.Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now in July last year and joined Frontier Myanmar a month later, so it is unclear why he was arrested, his lawyer said.“Danny should never have been arrested and we are disappointed that he has not yet been freed. On top of that, he is now also at risk of being infected with COVID-19,” Frontier Myanmar editor-in-chief Tom Kean said in a text message Thursday. “There is no point in holding Danny any longer — the authorities should release him immediately so he can go home to his family.”Chan Aye Kyaw, a spokesman for Insein Prison, said Fenster was not infected with the virus.He said that since Fenster is a foreigner, the prison provides up-to-date information on his condition. “If the virus was found in him, we will report it. But now Daniel does not have the disease,” he said.Chan Aye Kyaw said every prisoner is tested for the virus when police bring them in.“If they were found positive, we keep them in a dormitory for positive patients and they will be provided with medical care. There are more than 30 patients at the positive dormitory. They are separated from other prisoners,” he said.

Charities in Myanmar strained by soaring death tolls

Charities in Myanmar strained by soaring death tolls

Charity groups in Myanmar say the number of people dying in the country’s cities, which are facing a coronavirus surge and a shortage of oxygen to treat patients, has been climbing so quickly that they are struggling to keep up with funeral arrangementsBy GRANT PECK Associated PressJuly 14, 2021, 5:37 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBANGKOK — Charity groups in Myanmar said Wednesday that the number of people dying in the country’s cities, which are facing a coronavirus surge and a shortage of oxygen to treat patients, has been climbing so quickly that they are struggling to keep up with funeral arrangements.Crematoriums in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, are working from morning to night, funeral workers said. A staff member from Yay Way Cemetery, the city’s busiest, said its three crematoriums are in nonstop operation from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.Like most workers involved with funeral arrangements, he asked not to be named because of the government’s sensitivity about its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. The military-installed government that seized power in February routinely arrests critics for statements it considers either fake news or disturbing public order.The exact number of cremations and burials held each day has not been announced by city officials, but charity officials and unofficial estimates on social media say more than 100 bodies have been brought every day to Yay Way Cemetery recently, with more than 200 on Wednesday. The city’s other cemeteries also report higher than the usual numbers.The figures are higher than had been seen before the latest virus surge, and could suggest that the official death toll for COVID-19 cases is an undercount.The coronavirus crisis had not gotten much attention in the aftermath of February’s seizure of power by the military, which set off a wave of protests and violent political conflict that devastated the public health system.Only in recent weeks, as testing and reporting of COVID-19 cases has started recovering, has it become clear that a third wave of the virus beginning in mid-May was pushing case and death numbers rapidly higher.Even finding enough ambulances to carry the dead to Yangon’s cemeteries has has become difficult, said several charity workers, speaking on condition of anonymity.“Even bodies from yesterday could not be delivered by ambulance until this afternoon. Finding an ambulance is also very difficult. The death toll is rising by about 10 a day,” said Ba Shwe, a veteran charity worker who was willing to be quoted by name. He has worked with the groups that arrange funerals and also helps supervise a quarantine center.A worker for a charity organization that works in Yangon’s North Okkalapa neighborhood said that with seven ambulance drivers they were able to carry 50 bodies each day. In some cases, when they have not been able to transport all the bodies they have, they have had to hand them over for another charity group to handle, said the worker, who asked that neither he nor his organization be named.The privately funded charity organizations do not handle the bodies of people certified as having died from COVID-19, because that is restricted to workers for the city government.But they say many of the dead they handle were people whose oxygen supplies had run out. In many cases, people have been taking oxygen because they exhibited COVID-19 symptoms. For the past week, there have been queues in cities in town for oxygen and equipment such as canisters, both of which are in short supply.The Health Ministry on Wednesday announced 7,083 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 208,357 since the pandemic began, and 145 new deaths, making a total of 4,181.The U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said Wednesday that the situation posed a threat of “a significant loss of life” unless the international community provided emergency assistance.“An explosion of COVID cases, including the delta variant, the collapse of Myanmar’s health care system, and the deep mistrust of the people of Myanmar of anything connected to the military junta, are a perfect storm” for such a disaster, Andrews said in a statement released by the U.N. office in Geneva.———Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Myanmar caught off guard as cases surge, oxygen dwindles

Myanmar caught off guard as cases surge, oxygen dwindles

BANGKOK — Soe Win stood in line at a plant to buy oxygen for his grandmother, who is struggling with COVID-19 symptoms.“I have been waiting since 5 in the morning until 12 noon but I’m still in line. Oxygen is scarcer than money,” said the resident of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.Consumed by a bitter and violent political struggle since the military seized power in February, Myanmar has been slow to wake up to a devastating surge in cases since mid-May. It has left many of the sick like Soe Win’s grandmother to suffer at home if they cannot find a bed at an army hospital, or prefer not to trust their care to the widely disliked government.Under Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader ousted by the military, Myanmar had weathered its second coronavirus surge beginning in August last year by severely restricting travel, sealing off Yangon, and curbing election campaigning in virus hot spots where lockdowns were imposed.Suu Kyi appeared frequently on television with stern but empathetic entreaties to the public on how to deal with the situation. Vaccine supplies were secured from India and China. Her ouster came less than a week after the first jabs were given to health workers.Suu Kyi’s removal by the military sparked widespread protests, and medical workers spearheaded a popular civil disobedience movement that called on professionals and civil servants not to cooperate with the military-installed government.Military hospitals continued operating but were shunned by many, while doctors and nurses who boycotted the state system ran makeshift clinics, for which they faced arrest. The pace of vaccinations slowed to a crawl, threatening an explosion in infections.“No wise person with a good heart and a sincere desire for truth would want to work under the junta’s rule,” said Zeyar Tun, founder of the civic action group Clean Yangon who helped out at quarantine centers. “Under Suu Kyi, the government and volunteers worked together to control the disease, but it is difficult to predict what the future holds under military rule.”Photos and news stories early last week of people lining up to buy oxygen in the city of Kalay in the northwestern Sagaing region brought home the reality that Myanmar’s health care, already one of the world’s weakest, was on its knees.“From Myanmar, our U.N. colleagues on the ground say they’re concerned about the rapid increase in the number of recorded COVID-19 cases,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York. “The U.N. team warns that a major outbreak of COVID-19 would have devastating consequences on both people’s health and on the economy. They stress the importance of resuming the delivery of essential health services, implementing measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and to scale up vaccinations.”By the end of the week, residents of Myanmar’s two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, were also having trouble finding oxygen supplies.Myanmar’s new leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in a Friday meeting on COVID-19 response ordered oxygen plants to work at full capacity, including converting industrial oxygen for the needs of patients.Investment and Foreign Trade Minister Aung Naing Oo followed up on Saturday with an announcement that the government is dropping all duties and licensing requirements for the import of oxygen concentrators — devices that generate oxygen.The Health Ministry on Saturday reported a record 4,377 new confirmed cases for a total of 188,752, as well as a record 71 deaths, bringing the toll to 3,756. The number of tested people found to be infected is hovering around 25%, and equally alarming is how quickly the numbers have been rising.The data on vaccinations is not very clear, but it appears that as of last month, only 3.5 million doses had been administered to the country’s 55 million people, meaning a maximum of 3.2% of the population would be fully vaccinated with two doses.According to Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average rose from 1.18 cases per 100,000 people on June 25 to 6.08 cases per 100,000 people on July 9. In the same period, deaths jumped from 0.01 per 100,000 people to 0.08.Even those numbers are likely an undercount.According to aid group Relief International, Myanmar’s major challenges are a lack of adequate screening, testing capacity and availability of vaccines.The Health Ministry announced Thursday night that all schools would be closed for two weeks. Stay-at-home orders had already been issued for badly hit neighborhoods in several cities, including Yangon, and basic field hospitals set up.

Suu Kyi's lawyers fight over evidence in Myanmar trial

Suu Kyi's lawyers fight over evidence in Myanmar trial

Lawyers for ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi have argued strongly against the introduction of evidence by prosecutors against her on a sedition charge, saying it did not follow established judicial proceduresBy GRANT PECK Associated PressJuly 6, 2021, 4:15 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBANGKOK — Lawyers for ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi argued strongly Tuesday against the introduction of evidence by prosecutors against her on a sedition charge, saying it did not follow established judicial procedures.Suu Kyi is under detention and is being tried on several charges, including an allegation that she illegally imported walkie-talkies for her bodyguards’ use and used the radios without a license, and violated COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on two occasions during the 2020 election campaign.She went on trial on June 14 in a closed court in the capital, Naypyitaw, in proceedings that the military-installed government is widely seen as using to discredit her and consolidate its control.The military took power in February after ousting Suu Kyi’s elected government and arresting her and other top officials in her government and National League for Democracy party, which was about to begin a second five-year term in office after a landslide election victory last November.The sedition charge, which is sometimes called incitement, provides for up to two years’ imprisonment for anyone found guilty of causing fear or alarm that could provoke an offense against the state or public tranquility. It has been criticized as a catch-all statute used for political repression.Suu Kyi’s lawyers last month objected to the introduction by the prosecution of two statements that were posted on the Facebook page of Suu Kyi’s party after she and President Win Myint had already been arrested by the military on Feb. 1. Win Myint is Suu Kyi’s co-defendant under the sedition charge.One of the statements, issued Feb. 13, accused the military-installed government of trying to restrict the people’s right to freedom of expression and the internet, and declared that all the orders and laws issued by that government were illegal.Suu Kyi’s lawyers said they contended the statements should not be admissible because neither of the defendants signed them.The special court that is conducting the trial did not sustain the defense objection but said it would suspend testimony on the point while the defense appeals to a higher court.On Monday, after a district court rejected the defense appeal without a hearing, Suu Kyi’s lawyers said they would appeal to a region-level court, and if necessary to the Supreme Court.The lawyers objected again Tuesday when the plaintiff, a Naypyitaw bureaucrat, introduced a piece of evidence that had not been formally listed before testimony began, said Min Min Soe, a member of the defense team. The court allowed the evidence, a list of Central Executive Committee members of Suu Kyi’s party and its patrons.Suu Kyi faces additional charges that have yet to be tried, among them allegedly accepting bribes, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, and violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum term of 14 years.The army has said it will hold new polls within two years of its takeover, but a conviction on virtually charge any could result in Suu Kyi being banned from running, which many believe is the military’s goal.

Myanmar court extends pretrial detention of US journalist

Myanmar court extends pretrial detention of US journalist

BANGKOK — A court in Myanmar on Thursday extended the pretrial detention of Danny Fenster, a U.S. journalist employed by an online news magazine in the military-led Southeast Asian nation who was arrested in May on an incitement charge that carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment.Fenster, who is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24, as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family.Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told The Associated Press that the 37-year-old journalist was in good health but appeared to have lost some weight at Thursday’s hearing at the special court at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where he is being held. He asked that his wife send him medicine and food. Two consular officials from the U.S. Embassy also attended the hearing, the lawyer said.The next hearing is scheduled for July 15, but the case will not come to trial then because the court has too many cases backed up, he said.Fenster’s court appearance came a day after authorities began a release of about 2,300 prisoners who were charged in connection with protests that erupted after the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. The new government has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting journalists.Those released included protesters as well as journalists. Most were being held on the same charge as Fenster. Because there is no official list of freed detainees and the releases are taking place over several days, the exact number of journalists freed is not known.An unofficial tally kept by Myanmar journalists says of 88 journalists who were arrested after February’s military takeover, 49 have been released, including 14 on Wednesday.In June, a court released U.S. journalist Nathan Maung, who was arrested in March while working for Kamayut Media, a local online news platform. The charges against him were dropped, his case dismissed and he was deported to the United States.“The Myanmar junta’s continued detention of journalist Danny Fenster is outrageous and unacceptable. Independent reporting of what’s happening on the ground in Myanmar should not be considered a crime,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement.“The authorities should immediately drop all charges against Fenster, and permit him to leave the country if that is what he wants to do. The junta should also unconditionally free the more than 50 Burmese journalists who are still in detention and lift the license revocation orders imposed against numerous local media outlets,” Robertson said. Myanmar is also known by its old name, Burma.Than Zaw Aung said Fenster is charged in connection with his work at a previous job, as a reporter and copy editor for the online news site Myanmar Now.Myanmar Now, along with several other media outlets, had its license revoked in early March, banning it from publishing on any platform. However, it has continued to operate online.Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now in July last year and joined Frontier Myanmar a month later, so it is unclear why he was arrested, his lawyer said.“I don’t know in detail. What I can say is that he was accused as a staff member of Myanmar Now. I’m not clear if it concerns a story posted on Myanmar Now or not.”Fenster’s family in the United States, led by his parents and brother Bryan, have rallied support for his release with a website, an online petition and contacts with their representatives in Congress to keep pressure on the State Department to push Myanmar on the case. The U.S. government has made repeated pleas for media freedom in Myanmar and for Fenster’s release.The Irish rock band U2, which has long taken an interest in the fight for democracy in Myanmar, on Wednesday tweeted its support for Fenster’s release.“Journalism is not a crime. We join @RepAndyLevin and @bryanfenster in urging the immediate release of journalist Danny Fenster from detainment in Myanmar and thank heroic organizations like @pressfreedom for fighting to protect journalists everywhere — #BringDannyHome,” it said.“This is what we want. We want champions of human rights and social justice in a connected world to take on our cause,” Bryan Fenster said Thursday. “And what better example of that than all the guys in U2?”Bryan Fenster said he was able to speak to his brother on the phone this week — their first conversation since Danny Fenster was detained.The U.S. Embassy arranged to have the detained journalist speak by phone with his wife, Julianna, in Yangon. “Then, they were able to get in touch with me on another phone and kind of held them up to each other so we could hear each other and talk to each other,” Bryan Fenster said.“To finally hear his voice, you know, we could finally exhale, sink into the back of the couch for a little bit,” he said. “He sounded good. We were able to crack a few jokes that made me feel really good, in particular, because he’s got a great sense of humor. And happy he has his wits about him given the circumstances.”———Associated Press writer Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this report.

Activists, journalists included in Myanmar prisoner release

Activists, journalists included in Myanmar prisoner release

Myanmar’s government has begun releasing about 2,300 prisoners, including activists who were detained for protesting against the military’s seizure of power in February and journalists who reported on the protestsBy GRANT PECK Associated PressJune 30, 2021, 4:24 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBANGKOK — Myanmar’s government began releasing about 2,300 prisoners on Wednesday, including activists who were detained for protesting against the military’s seizure of power in February and journalists who reported on the protests, officials said.Buses took prisoners out of Yangon’s Insein Prison, where friends and families of detainees had waited since morning for the announced releases. It is standard practice to take freed prisoners to the police stations where they were originally booked to complete the processing for their freedom.Zaw Zaw, head of the Yangon Region’s Prison Department, confirmed that more than 720 people were released from the prison, which for decades has been the main facility for political prisoners.According to official announcements on state media, most if not all of the freed detainees faced charges related to the protests, including Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s penal code, which makes it a crime to spread comments that create public unrest or fear or spread false news, and carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.It appeared, however, that an unknown number of people held on that charge might still be detained. Complete information was not available and the releases are expected to take place over several days.State television reported on releases in the city of Mandalay and Naypyitaw, the capital, in addition to Yangon, the country’s biggest city. Local media in more remote areas reported releases as well, including in Myitkyina in the northern state of Kachin, Lashio in Shan state in the east, and Hakha in Chin state in the west, a hotbed of opposition to military rule.Tan Zar Oo, a lawyer who with her colleagues represents political detainees and journalists, said about half of the 100 people whose cases they handle, including journalists arrested as long as four months ago, were released Wednesday.A statement from the military said 2,296 prisoners were being released. Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun earlier told China’s Xinhua news agency that the released detainees were “those are who took part in the protests but did not take part in the violence, who did not commit crimes and did not lead the riots.”The Assistance Association for Political Prisoner said Tuesday that 5,224 people were in detention in connection with the protests. The group keeps detailed tallies of arrests and casualties linked to the nation’s political conflicts.There was no reason given for the timing of the releases.The government is eager to cultivate goodwill among the public, a large part of which is hostile to it. On Tuesday it announced that it was dropping charges against about two dozen celebrities who had taken a role in the protests.It would also like to soften its international image. The U.N. General Assembly on June 18 passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo against the Southeast Asian nation and condemning the military’s seizure of power. Several Western nations have already implemented diplomatic and economic sanctions.Tun Kyi, a senior member of the Former Political Prisoners Society, charged that the detainees were released to reduce pressure from the international community, and said they shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.“The military abducted dissidents and took them hostage. It is not an unconditional release of all political leaders and prisoners, but rather intended to avoid international pressure,” he said. “And there is no reason to be thankful.”Myanmar is also facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, with 1,312 new infections reported Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 155,697. Crowded conditions make prisons high-risk areas for the virus, though there was no official word if that threat played a part in the releases.The political turmoil has made the country’s health care system largely dysfunctional, severely limiting COVID-19 testing and reporting until about a month ago, when the number of confirmed cases shot up rapidly.

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