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Outspoken Burmese AIDS Activist Freed 


A Burmese AIDS activist detained since May for advocating the release of the country's top political prisoner has been freed. As Joseph Popiolkowski reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, the release follows a scathing report on Burma's human rights abuses from one of the world's best known humanitarian organizations.

Phyu Phyu Thin's release Tuesday comes six weeks after her arrest for attending prayer services aimed at gaining freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's democracy leader.

Phyu Phyu Thin runs a small AIDS clinic that distributes antiretroviral medication to patients. She has been vocal about the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate detained by Burma's military government since 1990.

Debbie Stothard is coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, a regional human rights group, and believes that outside pressure made a difference.

"Many local activists in Burma spoke up against her detention," said Stothard. "It did put a lot of pressure on the military authorities to release her. Internationally the human rights community also spoke up for her release."

"And the U.S. government, as well, spoke up and made interventions. We still need to keep up the pressure to ensure that Phyu Phyu Thin does not get arrested again, but also to secure the release of Phyu Phyu Thin's friends and colleagues who were arrested along with her," she added.

Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross publicly condemned Burma's military government. It said the government was guilty of killing unarmed civilians and forcing prisoners to work as army porters, among other abuses. The ICRC rarely condemns governments publicly, preferring to relay its concerns through private channels.

Stothard says a series of prayer vigils was mounted to bring awareness to Aung San Suu Kyi's incarceration. She says 30 activists remain in police custody from the most recent crackdown while Burma has more than 1,000 other political prisoners locked up.

"Phyu Phyu Thin is one of the people who was detained this year simply for having prayed for Aung San Suu Kyi's release. Apparently it's a state crime if you pray for the release of political prisoners," she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 62, led the National League for Democracy to a landslide election victory in 1990 but the military regime in Burma, also known as Myanmar, has refused to honor the results or convene parliament.

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