As the end of the year drew near and finally the airports re-opened after record snow falls across much of Europe we packed our bags for one final flying visit to bring 2010 to a close. But in keeping with our dramas of near misses with just about every mode of transport so far in 2 years of this project, yet again we nearly missed out. This time it was not a last minute dash or missed connection but more snow. Sixteen hours and a diverted landing later (as we were running low on fuel) we reached our destination despite the plane freezing as we sat waiting on a runway in Dusseldorf to re-fuel and a decision on whether we could go on.
Germany has just around 2,000 Burmese exiles but just a handful of former political prisoners. Unfortunately they live in different cities at other ends of the country and with the weather and time against us we were only able to make it to Cologne for what has been our quickest trip yet. Seeing this much snow reminded us of Norway even if the temperature was not quite as cold and the beauty of a white christmas, sledging and a snow ball fight on Christmas day coupled with meeting Aung Than Oo ‘Sonny’ and Aung Thu for this project meant the delays and dramas of transportation were worth it.
This trip had been organised with the great help of U Nwe Aung (NCUB) who has recently returned to his home in Cologne having worked in UK for the past few years. So now he was here we all arranged to meet for dinner (and whisky) at The Mandalay restaurant in Cologne (owned by Aung Thu’s brother Myint Swe). With a bit of thought and manouvering around the restaurant we managed to get pretty good portraits done – Aung Thu’s in the kitchen and in keeping with trying to show an ‘ordinary’ perspective to the work.
Aung Thu was jailed for 2 years in Insein prison
Aung Thu was arrested on 20th May 1990 and charged just one week later under sections 17/2 and 5J for attempting to disrupt the 1990 General Election. During the 1988 uprising he had worked closely with members of the ABFSU and soon after he was involved in setting up the ABSDF in Rangoon. It was his involvement in the ABSDF that caught the attention of Military Intelligence and that would eventually see him jailed in Insein prison for 2 years and 4 months. He was jailed in Insein with Aung Gyi, Thar Nyunt Oo and Aung Kyaw Soe (Ko Aung in the UK who is yet to be photographed for this project). After his release like so many his movements were monitored and he could not travel anywhere but it was links to helping his ABSDF colleague Win Naing Oo who wrote the book ‘Cries From Insein’ that was what proved the final straw that meant he had to flee Burma as MI came looking for Aung Thu once more. He fled to Germany on a tourist visa in 1996 and was able to claim political asylum soon after. He is now the President of the Burma Bureau Germany.
Aung Than Oo ‘Sonny’ was jailed in Insein prison for 4 years
Aung Than Oo or ‘Sonny’ as he is known, was just a 10th standard school boy when he first became political aware. He studied at Rangoon GTI Insein and soon became politically active growing up in the recent shadow of the 1962 student movement and subsequent incidents. Like many he was unable to finish his degree due to Universities constantly being closed down – in 1970 the Golden Jubilee of Rangoon University was celebrated but before the celebrations ended all the universities were closed down. Many students were imprisoned and some were expelled. In June 1974 a Labour Strike lead to further unrest and again students actively demonstrated, but it was the U Thant uprising in December 1974 at U Thant’s funeral that saw a mass crackdown by the regime with over 5,000 people arrested. Sonny could no longer risk staying in Rangoon due to his political activities and involvement in demonstrations so he fled to the Thai-Burma border. But there was little help to be found at this time and he could not risk going back to Rangoon so he stayed in the Moulmein area. Universities were opened once again on 5th May 1975 so he returned to Rangoon to meet with his colleagues once more, including Tin Maung Oo. They planned to start their movement again and waited until the anniversary of the June 1974 uprising. On 6th June 1975 the students and workers held a commemoration ceremony. From then onwards there were strikes and over 250 were detained. From middle school students up to university students were sentenced to imprisonment of 4 to 9 years under military tribunals. Sonny was arrested with his colleagues at Shwedagon Pagoda and was sentenced to 7 years in prison. He was jailed for 4 years in Insein prison. In 1987 as student uprisings started again he fled Burma to Germany where has lived ever since. He is an executive committee member of the Burma Bureau Germany.
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