‘Back in the USSR’ as the song goes… (well ok, the UK really) and a chance meeting lead to another former political prisoner joining the campaign. Monday March 8th was International Women’s Day – a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. No such celebrations in Burma where there are currently 177 women political prisoners, from various sectors of society, who are imprisoned for their political beliefs. There are women in prison as young as 21 and as old as 68. Many women have been separated from their husbands and children.
Full details on Women political prisoners in Burma is available on the AAPP website.
In Oxford, UK, International Women’s Day was celebrated with an event dedicated to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – “Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Burma”. It was at this event that I had planned to photograph another former political prisoner who was helping to organize it and to do so in Oxford with all it’s connections to Daw Suu made it very poignant. In fact we had first tried to meet up with Kaung Myat Thu when we were in Norway as he was living in Oslo but were never able to track him down. So it was great to have finally met – in fact our first meeting came about completely by chance when a group of us met up and it wasn’t until someone called him by his name that I asked if he was in fact Kaung Myat Thu, former political prisoner who lived in Oslo! he was and here we are now in Oxford taking his portrait to add to the other 116.
In 1988 Kaung Myat Thu was a student, like his colleagues, doing all he could to stand up to the regime. He was part of a small underground organisation and in 1989 he was arrested and jailed under Section 17(1) of the notorious “Unlawful Association Act” whereby…
“Whoever is a member of an unlawful association, or contributes or receives or solicits any contribution for the purpose of any such association or in any way assists the operations of any such association, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term (which shall not be less than two years and more than three years and shall also be liable to fine).
He was detained in Insein prison form 1989 to 1991 where he was then transferred to Tharawaddy prison. He was released on 23rd December 1992. He remained in Burma for the next 10 years, still working secretly in his organisation before finally fleeing to the Thai border in 2003. He spent two years in Mae Sot and Nu Po camp before being resettled in Norway. Where he lives now… just not when I went there looking for him!
The event in Oxford was a huge success with the main highlights being some superb traditional dancing from Miss J.San – the Secretary General herself – and a rousing speech from Mya Aye’s daughter Waihnin Pwint Thon, both worthy of the ovations they both received. Both reminding us on this day of celebration of women of the very different lives that women face inside Burma.
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