HIV patients punished for Suu Kyi visit

BURMA’S government ordered more than 80 people at a shelter for patients with HIV and AIDS to leave following a visit by newly freed democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the centre’s organisers said today.

Suu Kyi, released a week ago from seven years under house arrest, visited the shelter on the outskirts of Yangon on Wednesday, promising to provide it with badly needed medicines. She also addressed a crowd of more than 600 who came to see her.

A day after her visit, government officials told patients they would have to leave by next week or face legal action because the centre’s permit was not being renewed, said Phyu Phyu Thin, a pro-democracy activist who founded the operation.

By law, home owners must seek government permission every two weeks to allow visitors to stay overnight.

“We have been allowed to renew our resident permits in the past. I think authorities want to pressure us because of aunty’s (Suu Kyi’s) visit to the shelter,” said Zeyar, a member of Suu Kyi’s officially disbanded political party and one of the organisers of the shelter. Zeyar uses only one name.

The military regime had kept Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, under detention for more than 15 of the last 21 years, and her release last weekend drew thousands of cheering supporters into Yangon’s streets.

Suu Kyi has since called for a “peaceful revolution” to bring democracy to Myanmar but has made it clear she is seeking dialogue with the ruling generals.

The shelter, which includes a small wooden house and a two-story building of wood and thatch walls, currently accommodates 82 patients including young children, offering them housing, food, medicine and educational opportunities. Zeyar said health authorities offered Saturday to move the patients to their own HIV centre.

“The patients have the right to make their own choice. The pressure by local authorities has made our patients very sad, which will adversely affect their health,” he said.

Some patients were defiant.

“I will never move out of the shelter,” said 45-year old Ma Yi Yi Nyunt, who arrived at the shelter in September.

“I could have been dead by now had I not been taken to this place. This place is a haven for people like us,” said a 45-year old Maung Ohn.

In a separate incident, the popular Myanmar-language sports publication First Eleven was ordered to close down for two weeks, an editor said, as punishment for a front page headline on a football story that read: “Sunderland Freeze Chelsea United Stunned By Villa & Arsenal Advance To Grab Their Hope.”

Some letters in the headline were shaded a different colour from the rest, meaning it could have been read as “Su Free, Unite & Advance To Grab The Hope.”

All local publications have to pass through a government censorship board.

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