Norway Day 3: A Winter Wonderland

An early start as today we’re heading out of Oslo and making our way to the small town of Gjovik some 2 hours north by train. It has been such a pleasure to stay with Moe Maung Maung and yet again I have made a new friend for life. We said our goodbyes and headed off to Central station but unfortunately my planning was not up to ruthless efficiency of the Secretary General and we had to hang around for an hour for our train… stick to taking photos, that’s the moral of the story. Whilst central Oslo was somewhat lacking in snow as soon as we got through the suburbs we were met with the full splendour of the beautiful winter wonderland that Norway is famous for.

Gjovik is a beautiful town located on the banks of Lake Mjosa with plenty of snow and a distinctly chilly -12 today. This section of the trip had been planned with the help of Kyaw Soe Lin who was also kindly having us to stay with him and his wife. In fact a very special thanks needs to go to not only Kyaw Soe Lin for his help in planning this trip but very importantly to both Kaythi Aye and Cho Cho Tun without whose help the whole Norway trip would not have happened. Both Kaythi and Cho Cho are also former political prisoners but unfortunately we will not have time to see them on this trip as they live in Bergen which is on the West coast of Norway some 7 hours by train from Oslo – but it’s a trip that will happen in 2010. We arrived at Gjovik and were met by Kyaw Soe Lin, U Zaw Win and Yin Min Oo and also Jimmy who had made the trip specially from the nearby town of Hammer even though he was working. Without further delay we quickly chatted with Jimmy and then took his portrait at a great location just outside the station before he had to dash back to work. This is so symbolic of the lengths that people are going to for this project/campaign. Jimmy @ Aung Myo was imprisoned in Insein for 5 years in 1990. He was jailed again in 1999 for his involvement in the 9999 operation. He fled to Thailand in 2000 upon his release from jail and began working for Khit Pyaing newspaper until 2004 when he relocated to Norway. He currently works on the Burma Foreignen Gjovik website.

We headed back to Kyaw Soe Lin’s house and were treated to the usual Burmese hospitality of a superb meal followed by much talk – full interviews with all four of them will be available here in the coming weeks but in brief another 30+ years in jail was accumulated today for all the usual reasons… There are no reasons. A former NLD member from Yee township in Mon State, U Zaw Win spent 6 years in Insein prison, Moulmein prison, Tharawaddy prison and a labour camp in Southern Shan State. Yin Min Oo was jailed in 1994 under the usual section 5J and spent 5 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons. Kyaw Soe Lin was sentenced to jail in 1989 again like so many under section 5J. However, what is different to so many is that he was only 14 years old at the time. At aged 14 he was hauled before a military court and within 30 minutes was sentenced to 3 years in jail having been refused any form of representation. His crime? Handing out leaflets. The SPDC will stop at nothing, even regardless of age, be it with child soldiers or even jailing children who they deem to be instigating instability in the State. There are such things as standards in international law and society with regards to the treatment of people – it’s called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and where article 9 states quite clearly that “No-one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”. But for Burma there is no law and time and time again the abuses continue under the watchful eyes of the UN and the international community. Kyaw Soe Lin spent a total of 10 years in prison. Whilst a full interview with him will be published here soon, in the meantime you can read more about his story on the Irrawaddy website. The prisoner’s name written on his hand is his brother-in-law.

With what light there had been today slowly fading away in the haze of the constant snow showers, we all headed outside into the freezing temperatures to take the portraits. Finally I get the portraits I wanted to show the global nature of this project and the images are amazing and will be posted back here very shortly. Indoors, outdoors, in the sun or the snow, nothing is stopping this campaign take shape and the overwhelming strength of character and belief instilled in every former political prisoner I have met is starting to rub off on us all. I think 2010 could be very, very special indeed. The final act of the day is played out in front of the TV – another great Burmese tradition… Karaoke!!

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