Aung San Suu Kyi denied medical care, says son Kim Aris

Despite indications she would be transferred to house arrest in the capital Naypyidaw last month when six years were shaved off her 33-year jail term, she has remained in solitary confinement in prison.

Suu Kyi’s former economics adviser Sean Turnell, who was imprisoned for 21 months following the military takeover, also expressed concern for her wellbeing.

“I think I was probably the last person who now is outside to have seen her a little bit less than year ago,” the Australian academic said on Thursday. “At that point, she was in extraordinarily good spirits, very strong and all that. But, of course physically, she was painfully thin.

“Obviously, I’d worked with her over the last few years. Before [being jailed] she was just elegantly slim, now she’s painfully thin. I can only imagine in the year since I saw her, it’s only more so. The food in the prison is diabolical and unless you get some support from outside you’re going to lose weight.”

Turnell said the conditions in which Suu Kyi was being held were “really pretty awful”.

“The last time I saw her she was in what could be described as a small cabin in the middle of the prison which was about 100 metres away from me. It was incredibly basic … [it] certainly had no comforts in it at all,” he said.

“It was fully under guard, walled off from the rest of us. I saw it being built.”

Turnell, who was eventually released last November, was afforded medical care from beyond the prison at the insistence of the Australian embassy in Myanmar but Burmese political prisoners are not in the same position.

“The whole time I was there, medical care was routinely denied to prisoners,” he said. One of my colleagues broke his leg and the [prison] doctor wouldn’t come because he’d run out of forms to report the incident on,” he said.

“The guy only got medical attention because one of my fellow prisoners was a real doctor who basically shamed this prison doctor into actually helping the guy. He’d broken the leg so badly falling down a drainage ditch that his leg was at right angles below the knee.”

Suu Kyi’s legal team has been unable to see her regularly. She denies the charges, including sedition, election fraud, violation of coronavirus rules and illegal importation of walkie-talkies, which are widely viewed as trumped-up for the purposes of sidelining her from politics. She was convicted of 19 offences and is appealing the 14 that remain in place after five were removed via a pardon in August.

Dr Tun-Aung Shwe, the Australian representative for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, which includes officials from Suu Kyi’s toppled administration that are now in hiding or in exile, said the alleged blocking of medical care for her was straight out of the junta’s playbook.


He believes the senior generals running the country want Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party to participate in an election they have designs on holding in a bid to give legitimacy to a poll tipped by resistance and rights groups, as well as analysts, to be a sham. The NLD, which enjoyed landslide victories in Myanmar’s 2015 and 2020 elections, was dissolved along with 39 other parties in March after they refused to register under a new military-imposed electoral law.

“This is a tool they use to repress people in Myanmar,” Shwe said. “I had a similar experience in my family. My father [Tin Shwe] was one of the founding members of the National League for Democracy. He was arrested in 1990 like other opposition leaders. He passed away in 1997, seven years after he was sentenced.

“In the last days of my late father, he had a heart attack and our family requested the prison authorities to allow him to get the proper medical treatment at the hospital. We tried our best for six months but the military, they never allowed him to get the treatment in the proper way. Finally, he passed away in solitary confinement when he had a second heart attack.”

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