Thailand Day 10: Joining The NLD On The Day They Said ‘NO’

Back in Mae Sot after the hectic weekend touring the camps down south but there’s no time to put the feet up and rest. We have to leave on Wednesday evening back to Bangkok and have a lot to cover back here in town before we go. So another early start but perhaps too rushed as over a breakfast planning meeting a jug of milk goes over my laptop… ‘no use crying over spilt milk’ couldn’t be more appropriate and thankfully everything is ok (good old macs!!). Last year we shot more than 30 former political prisoners in one session at the AAPP office. It was great but now there is the opportunity to take many of those portraits again to get different backgrounds adding diversity to the numbers of portraits we now have. We have managed some last week but the next few days we can concentrate on photographing those who are around in town. In fact we get a surprise call and a former political prisoner not yet photographed is in town at an ABSDF meeting, so we jump on the bikes and head of to the location to meet Myo Min Tun. He was jailed for 1 year in Insein and Maubin prisons and was cellmates with Dr Aye Chan (from Tokyo) and also Aung Din (executive director and co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma).

Myo Min Tun

Possibly the most important part of today is the fact that the NLD are due to make their announcement about whether or not they will be taking part in the election. A foregone conclusion as we all know the result already, but who better to spend the morning with discussing the future for the NLD, the election and even the forthcoming football world cup, than an NLD Member of Parliament. Khun Myint Tun was elected MP for Thaton Constituency in Mon State. He was arrested in 1996 and charged with high treason along with hundreds of other members of the NLD. I first met Khun Myint Tun last summer and took his portrait but the chance to meet again was obviously too good to miss out – especially to be spending time with him on the day that his party are about to announce that they are not taking part in the election… an incredible moment to experience. We spent ages chatting and took his portrait in his house – it’s one of the best so far no doubt about it and it carries such meaning as it was taken on the day they said they wont take part in the sham election – as though it was another act of defiance taking this photo. Khun Myint Tun (a member of parliament don’t forget) was jailed for 7 years in 6 different prisons.

Khun Myint Tun – NLD MP for Thaton Township

A few hours after leaving Khun Myint Tun’s house the announcement was made official – the National League for Democracy would not be taking part in the forthcoming sham elections in Burma. It was very surreal but a total honour to have spent time with an NLD MP discussing all of this just hours before this historic announcement was made. It of course the only decision they could have made under the extreme conditions they were under from the SPDC.  So on May 7th the NLD as we know and love it will no longer cease to exist…
Back to Thiha’s house to re-group and also an opportunity to re-shoot U Zawana as the one we shot week the before last was too hurried on the day of the 10th anniversary. He is an incredible man having spent 16 years in prison and was only too happy to have his portrait taken again and thankfully this time we got an absolute beauty. You can note in the photo below the iPhone coming in to play again – not only saved the day at Umpiem camp the other day but its also the personal log book with all the info and details i need – a crucial device for the modern day activist/photographer!!

Thiha, U Zawana and Jacqueline San

The day ends meeting up with Aye Min Soe and he joins us at the tea shop (where else!). Aye Min Soe is a DVB video journalist who worked undercover during the Saffron Revolution. He escaped to Thailand with Thiha when Thiha was released from prison after 17 years inside. They are both now my very good friends and I’m working closely with them on the issue of former political prisoner refugees and the UNHCR issues. We take their portraits again in the market area – Thiha’s being a moment of genius (and luck) as I get a monk in the background and the shot looks as though its inside Burma – highly symbolic I hope. We continue on to dinner at the night market and enjoy the evening relaxing after another long day.

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