September 27th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi
Rights groups are demanding the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi following the release this week of around seven political prisoners in Burma.
The military government gave an amnesty for more than 9,000 inmates in act they described as ‘good will and kindness’.
One of them was Win Tin One of Burma’s most prominent political detainees who spent 19 years in detention.
After his release he spoke about his feelings to Asia Calling’s partner station the Democractic Voice of Burma.
“In my view, Burma is a prison. All of us are prisoners. We don’t have freedom of speech; we don’t have freedom of expression. It is only technology, not freedom of speech that allows me to speak to you on this phone. Is there any freedom in this country? Can you say or write anything freely in this country? No way! We are all in prison.”
He says that he strongly rejects the military government’s new consitution and vows to continue to fight for democracy in Burma.
“That is what I have done in the past and I will carry on. I will keep on working for it. I do not know how much strength, intelligence and power it will take. Please help me, advise me, and work hand in hand with me, back me up. I will do my best.”
He spent nearly two-decades behind bars in Rangoons notorious Insein jail. The prison is believed to be still holding thousands of political activists.
Those who have been in there and managed to survive say they will never forget the nightmare of being on the inside.
King Kong Janoi spoke to one such female political prisoner now living in Thailand.
“I have been release more than eight years but still sometimes I think I am sleeping in the cell. Until now I could not smell bean-curry because that is my horrible food in the jail.”
Ma Suu Mon was the youngest female political prisoner at Insein.
She was jailed at the age of 19 for being a leader in the young wing of the National League for Democracy or NLD.
Authorities came for her while she was cleaning the NLD office in April of 2000.
“We saw a nice, big car parked near the house. I joked that I’d love to drive the car and go sightseeing. I entered the house and changed clothes. After a few minutes there was a knock at the front door. My mom opened it and found eight military - intelligence officers in front of the house. I was scared, and just looked at the floor, shaking all over, because I knew I was going to be arrested.”
They blind folded and put her into the car without telling her where they were going.
“After an hour the car stopped. I heard the sound of an iron door opening. One of the officers told me to bow my head down and pushed me forward. I realised that I was already in my cell, because I knew the doorways of cells are lower. They took off the blindfold and I found myself in a cell with many other inmates. Later they took my photo and moved me into solitary confinement. That’s where I stayed until the day I was released.”
She was in there for 11 months.
“I didn’t eat or see the light of day for the first three days. I just drank water. They question me many times, day and night, for interrogation. While I was being questioned I had to wear a big hood so that I couldn’t see their faces. I had to sit on a high stool – my feet couldn’t touch the ground and there was no backrest, so my back ached after a while. Mentally I was exhausted, especially from not knowing what I was charged with or how long I would be in prison. I spent my days never knowing what was going to happen tomorrow.”
She was told she would be released if she signed a document vowing never to get involved in politics- she refused.
“Prison was cruel, but I worried about my friends there. When I heard them crying or losing their minds, I realised that I could never give up, and I just wanted to keep fighting for political change.”
She was finally released in January 2001.
“When I arrived home my mother was cooking some food to send me in prison. I tottered into the house because I hadn’t walked so much in such a long time. My eyesight was unclear because I couldn’t take the sunlight. My nose was unfamiliar with the fresh air. Only my mother and sister were home. When my mother saw me she called out my name and cried. I’d become just skin and bones and I was covered in painful.”
She wanted to return to University but was told she had to sign a document saying she would not participate in political activists. She refused again and missed another year of study.
The following year there was no obligation to sign an agreement so she returned and gained a degree in chemistry in 2003.
After graduating she became interested in journalism and is now a reporter for Radio Free Asia in Thailand.
“Sometimes I feel that I’ve been selfish for leaving my country, but I think I might be arrested again if I’m in Burma and wouldn’t get a second chance this time. Military-intelligence officers always stop at my house and ask my parents where I am. If Burma became a democratic country tomorrow, I’d return home immediately. I want to work for the people in my country and I want to live with my parents, but I have to live in another country for now and save my life for that day.”