U Nyan Win, a spokesman for the governing party of Myanmar that was ousted by the military earlier this year, died on Tuesday of Covid-19 contracted in prison, his lawyer said.
The death of one of the most high-profile of thousands of political prisoners locked up since the February coup underscored the tragedy unfolding in Myanmar, where a failing health system has been utterly shattered by a junta determined to keep oxygen and other lifesaving care from those who oppose its rule.
In addition to acting as a spokesman for the former governing party, the National League for Democracy, Mr. Nyan Win, 79, served as a lawyer for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the onetime civilian leader of Myanmar. Both were imprisoned after the coup, along with the party’s entire senior leadership.
Mr. Nyan Win was charged with sedition and sent to Insein, Myanmar’s most notorious prison. On July 11, he was transferred to a hospital in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, the National League for Democracy said.
After earlier waves of the coronavirus crested in Myanmar last year, the Delta variant has washed over the country in recent weeks, devastating a country that was already reeling from the bloody aftermath of the coup. More than 900 people have been killed by the military since the putsch, according to a monitoring group. Among the dead are dozens of children.
The military has halted a nationwide vaccination campaign, reserving most doses for those who publicly support the coup. It has also hoarded oxygen for soldiers and their families, doctors say, making a private trade in oxygen akin to a criminal act. The enforced oxygen shortages have prematurely ended hundreds of lives, medical experts said.
Mr. Nyan Win is not the only senior politician to have contracted the coronavirus while in detention. U Phyo Min Thein, the former chief minister of the area surrounding Yangon, the largest city, is in critical condition because of the virus, according to the National League for Democracy, as is the former head of the party’s national vaccination effort.
Medical experts fear that the coronavirus is spreading fast in the country’s crowded prisons, just as it has among the general population. Myanmar borders India, where the highly transmissible Delta variant was first identified. Bodies are piling up at crematories in major cities, according to witnesses.