Norway Day 3: Bergen and Fleeing Burma’s Past

Last time we were in Norway it was minus 16. Thankfully today it’s a beautiful day with the sun shining and about 30 degrees warmer. Bergen is a beautiful city on the west coast of Norway, surrounded by mountains and the cold north sea and the hundreds of fjords that bisect the stunning coastline. With just one day in town the day we have to work quickly but we’re in good safe hands as always and the day has been put together by Ma Kaythi Aye, someone who has been instrumental for over a year in helping me with the trips to Norway and locating former political prisoners. So it’s off to Ma Kaythi’s house to meet Cho Cho Tun Nyein, Hero Clyde and Kyaw Maung Maung Thwin and of course no better way to start the day than with Ohn Nyot Khaut Swe (coconut noodle soup) – reminding me of our time with Ma Hla Hla Htwe and Cho Seint in Lillehammer. Ma Kaythi Aye this trip now would not have been possible without your help – thank you so much for your kindness… and your lighting skills!

Kaythi Aye

Kaythi Aye was heavily involved in the Rangoon University Students’ Union’s activities. She was arrested on 15th December 1991 after her participation in the 10D student movement that took place on 10th December 1991 in celebration of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was arrested and interrogated for 3 days by military intelligence before being transferred to Insein prison. 4 months later she was sentenced to 12 years. She was released on May 4th, 1992 under General Amnesty Declaration 11/92.  She was detained again in June, 2003. She was suspected of collecting eyewitnesses to the Depayin massacre and sending them to an embassy in Rangoon. This was the final straw for her and she fled Burma in August 2003 for the Thai Burma border. She contacted former political prisoners on the border and worked with the AAPP until February 2005 when she resettled to Bergen.

Cho Cho Tun Nyein

Cho Cho Tun Nyein, a Zoology graduate from Rangoon University and lawyer joined the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) during the 1988 uprising. In September 1988, after the military coup, he joined the National Political front (NPF) and was a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee. The SLORC banned the NPF in August 1989, and Cho Cho Tun Nyein was immediately arrested and charged under Section 5(j) of the Emergency Provision Act and 10(a) of the State Protection Act. He was detained in Insein Prison for two-and-a- half years before being sentenced in January 1992 to three years imprisonment. Four months later on May 1, he was released from Insein Prison under a conditional amnesty 11/92 in which he had to guarantee that he would not become involved in politics. On the day he was released his mother died at 2am. He did not see his mother before she passed away. In 1992 he received a Masters Degree in Zoology from Rangoon University. In March 1995, Cho Cho Tun Nyein was again detained by the authorities, but this time just for 14 days, after attending the funeral of former Prime Minister U Nu. After the December 1996 student demonstrations in Rangoon he was once again sought by the authorities and so fled to Thailand in April 1997 where he worked with the Burma Lawyers’ Council in Bangkok. From 1998 – 2001 he worked in Bangkok before moving to Mae Sot where he worked until 2004. In 2004 he started working full time for AAPP before resettling to Bergen in February 2005.

Hero Clyde

Hero Clyde, a Karen student living in Hin Tha Da township in Irrawaddy Delta was arrested in December 1981 whilst staying with his Karen relatives and friends in Rangoon. They were all arrested along with many other Karen who were suspected of illegal association with the KNU and other outlawed organisations. He was detained by MI and interrogated for 3 months. before being sent to Insein prison where he was detained for 3 years before being sentenced in a military court. After 2 months he was transferred to Hlay Hlaw Inn Labour camp not far from Rangoon where he spent 8 and half months building the Rangoon to Mandalay highway. In a brave and daring move he escaped from the camp one night with a colleague and fled to safety making their way to the Three Pagodas Pass some 2 weeks later. But no sooner than they arrived Hero Clyde suffered severe Malaria that struck him down for 2 years. Upon his recovery he joined the KNU and moved up to Manerplaw where he soon became a Captain in Battalion 5 in the KNLA leading many highly dangerous missions. After the fall of Manerplaw he moved to Papun town whilst his family were in Mer Da Mu camp. In 2006 he left the KNLA and joined his family in the camp due to health problems and later that year he was resettled to Norway where he currently lives with his family in Bergen.

Kyaw Maung Maung Thwin

Kyaw Maung Maung Thwin was a student at Moulmein University from 1995 – 1998. When the universities were closed in 1997 after student demonstrations in Rangoon he went to Thailand to meet his brother and colleagues in the ABSDF and became a messenger. When he returned to Burma he was arrested in Myawaddy and accused of making contact with an illegal organisation. He was detained by Military Intelligence for one month and was brutally tortured, still today he suffers severe health repercussions due to the torture he endured. He was charged under 17/1 and sentenced to 2 years in prison where he was jailed in Moulmein prison until his release in October 2000. After his release he returned home to Mon State and joined the local NLD party but was unable to go anywhere or see anyone without having to inform the local authorities. He stayed for only 2 months before fleeing to Thailand. He stayed with ABSDF for 3 years working as volunteer teacher at ABSDF school before moving to Mae Sot  in 2003 where he joined the AAPP, working there for over 2 years. In 2005 he resettled to Bergen.

The sun shone all day and we enjoyed the scenic view from up on high overlooking this beautiful city after we had finished taking the portraits. The day flew past and before I knew it I was racing to the airport but not before finding time to take another portrait of Ma Kaythi as the sun had played a few tricks with the one we took at Bergen’s famous Bryggen wharf. This time it worked as we shot inside the wharf itself rather than showing the tourist side the world sees. And that is what this whole project is all about – getting inside to tell the real stories that the world just does not see.

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Norway Day 2: The Curse of the Dolphins

An early start this morning as it could be a big day. The Democratic Voice of Burma are one of the favourites for the Nobel Peace Prize along with Liu Xiaobo, the political dissident currently jailed in China for his lifelong peaceful struggle for freedom and democracy in China. We get to theoffice just after 7am and Norwegian TV NRK1 are already doing the first interviews of the day. The announcement to be made live on TV from here in Norway by the Norwegian Nobel Committee is due at 11.00am so a tense few hours to fill until then… well, actually no, it’s just another day in the office as TV and radio broadcasts need to be prepared but with more and more media turning up throughout the morning there is hope around that this time we won’t be undone by the dolphins (‘The Cove’ beat ‘Burma VJ’ to the Oscar – ed).


As the countdown to the announcement approaches, there are several film crews, photographers and journalists in the office waiting to hopefuly catch the moment that DVB wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Deputy Executive Director, Khin Maung Win, is interviewed live on NRK TV just before the announcement is made before all our eyes are firmly fixed to the TV screen while the watching TV and photographers’ cameras and firmly fixed on us. And the winner is… damn those pesky dolphins.

Liu Xiaobo, the  Chinese intellectual, writer, and human rights activist who called for democratic reforms and the end of one-party rule in China is one of the most deserved winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in years. He has served as President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center since 2003 but is currently serving as a political prisoner in China. On 8 December 2008, Liu was detained in response to his participation with Charter 08. He was formally arrested on 23 June 2009, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” He was tried on the same charges on 23 December 2009 and sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights on 25 December 2009. Now during his 4th prison term he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, thus becoming the second detained Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. When is the world going to wake up to this?

As the world’s media slowly slip away from the office it’s back to work and just another day in the office, but naturally some reflection on what might have been. Just to be recognised as the front runner for such an award is an incredible achievement and shows just how vital the work done by DVB and all undercover journalists in Burma is. The rest of the day is spent documenting a day in the life of DVB and more meetings and planning, before heading to the airport to catch a plane to Bergen, where tomorrow I’ll be meeting former political prisoners who are now living there and hearing their stories. Win or bust the show must go on.

Norway Day 1: Norway & Nobel – A Perfect Blend

After a summer recess longer than even the politicians can manage, we are finally back on the road. A great feeling. Back doing what we do best. Not that we’ve just been sitting around enjoying the sun – far from it in fact, as the last few months have seen Amnesty International launch a major campaign for political prisoners using our work and saw us photograph the British Deputy Prime Minister. But all this time the really important work has been continuing in the background – can’t reveal what yet but one day we will. Justice will prevail.

The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) in Oslo, Norway

An early start as we’re Oslo bound (again) for a catch up with friends plus meetings at DVB before flying to Bergen on Saturday to meet with Ma Kaythi Aye, Ko Cho Cho Tun and the many other former political prisoners living there. A quick three day trip before the election to keep the pressure up and it started in the usual rush of near missed buses, trains and flights but we got here in the end. The only major hiccup was whisky. Not the blend – just too much whisky. But this time not a drop was drunk and my over exuberance got the better of me and as I strolled through customs in Oslo airport I was pulled aside and asked to explain what I was doing with 4 bottles of whisky? The simple answer “I’m Burmese” didn’t wash. A £100 fine and 3 bottles confiscated was not the start I was looking for. Now how are we going to celebrate winning the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow?

DVB broadcasts TV and radio programmes back into Burma

We finally made it to the office and it was great to see everyone again. An afternoon chatting and planning and the usual friendly family atmosphere and just time for some relaxed shots around the office as the day unfolds – no portraits or work documenting today as we’ve already photographed the former political prisoners here in Oslo and at DVB last year. A relaxed evening spent with friends at Ma Thida’s apartment and her kind hospitality ahead of the big announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow – another reason why we are here. DVB are one of the main contenders if the stories are to be believed and 19 years after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded hers it couldn’t come too soon for DVB. Naturally I am biased but it would be an extraordinarily worthwhile victory if it was to be awarded to them – a timely victory at the very least as the elections are now exactly 1 month away. I am lucky to be here and even luckier to be able to work with them. Keep your fingers crossed and tune in to the announcement live as a webcast on the Nobel website.

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