Labour & Burma’s Political Prisoners: Solidarity or Self Interest?

Britain’s Labour Party stood in unity today with Burma’s political prisoners as our trip back to the House of Commons saw almost 20 MPs (many from the Shadow Cabinet) take action for Amnesty’s campaign including the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, Harriet Harman and Shadow Foreign Secretary, Yvette Cooper.

Harriet Harman MP

We shot the portraits in the Parliamentary Labour Party office inside the House of Commons – beautifully old and historic rooms, but about as dark as a cell in Insein. Five minutes running around the office trying to find a suitable spot before members of the Shadow Cabinet poured in through the doors and organised chaos ensued before we got the ‘media friendly group shots’ out of the way leaving me to take a few individual portraits that count for what I’m trying to show. It was hectic and we sped through the group shots despite me not knowing who was who (if only I cared about British politics as much as I do about Burma’s!). It went well but a sudden moment of dissent from within the ranks was an unexpected shock – it was rightfully and ruthlessly quashed by Harriet Harman who was not amused at all and I thank her for it. We live in a free world where we have the right of freedom of speech however to announce that you are not writing a name on your hand because “it’s a stupid idea” is insulting and disrespectful to the 2,200 political prisoners and all the former political prisoners I am working with and quite frankly Mr ‘un-named’ MP, I of all people am very happy for you not to be part of it. If the SPDC are trying to infiltrate the House of Commons like the DDOS attacks currently underway in Burma as we speak then they failed miserably. If I had been in Harriet’s shoes or if this had been Naypidaw then the offending General would have very quickly found himself in a dark cell in Myingyan. If Harriet was left decisively un-amused you can be sure I was left very much insulted and left wondering why this certain MP bothered turning up at all… solidarity or self-interest?

Yvette Cooper MP

After the whirlwind of politicians had been and gone, I managed to have a brief meeting with Yvette Cooper to discuss Burma, the elections and of course the issue for political prisoners including the current grave situation faced by many on the Thai-Burma border with potential forced repatriation on the cards. She showed a passionate and concerned interest in Burma and the current situation in the country both now and post election. With David Cameron heading to China next week, I wonder what discussions (if any) the British Government will have about the two detained Nobel Peace prize winners, one of whom is due to make headlines once again next week.

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EXCLUSIVE: British Foreign Secretary Demands the Release of Burma’s Political Prisoners

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has taken the stand in solidarity with Burma’s political prisoners, demanding their immediate and unconditional release from prison. The British government has been vocal in condemning the forthcoming elections as a sham and in demanding the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners if there is to be any sense of national reconciliation in Burma – something he was keen to re-iterate.

British Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP

The name on his hand is Mya Aye, leader of the 88 Generation Students who is currently incarcerated in Taungyyi prison where he is suffering extreme ill health and is in urgent need of medical attention.

With just over two weeks to go until the election, we are keeping up the pressure not just on the regime, but also on EU and ASEAN governments who take a more soft approach with the SPDC. With most of the leading UK politicians photographed already, there is just one big name yet to some… come in number 10 – your time is up.

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EXCLUSIVE: British Deputy Prime Minister Stands With Burma’s Political Prisoners

An exclusive moment in this campaign as British Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg turns up the pressure on the junta and stands in solidarity alongside the former political prisoners to demand the unconditional release of all Burma’s political prisoners. As the election draws ever nearer, on Monday 4th October along with Foreign minister Jeremy Browne, Nick Clegg will be attending the ASEM meeting where discussions on Burma will take place and the issue of political prisoners will be at the forefront of both of their minds. We also met with Jeremy Browne on Thursday last week just before he left where he reassured that the issue would be raised in earnest.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stands with Burma’s Political Prisoners

With many of the leading British politicians having taken action already including David Milliband amongst others, we wait to hear from David Cameron on when he will have time in his diary to join his parliamentary colleagues and take the stand for Burma’s political prisoners.

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Hands Up For Democracy in Burma

Another major article in a national newspaper – this time it’s the The Observer newspaper in the UK that ran a double page feature on this work with political prisoners. Thanks to Jack Davies for his time and the many long distance phone conversations we’ve had over the past week.

You can read the article on The Observer website.

Unlike the first major international feature article about this work in The Independent (which concentrated on telling the story about the work itself and about political prisoners) this article leads with the portraits of celebrities and politicians/statesmen accompanying the portraits of two former political prisoners – my friends ‘Zulu’ and ‘Andrew’ as it has now become a campaign and politics is on the agenda with the election fast approaching. This shows how with Amnesty International‘s involvement we have been able to attract high profile people to stand in solidarity on this issue. Raising awareness amongst the general public is crucial if we are to achieve our hopes of change. However, an unfortunate by-product of that need to educate and inform people is often the way in which the message is carried to the masses and in this article the rather unfortunate sub-heading stating that “Amnesty organised a unique photo project” may be true to the extent that a few celebrities have been photographed by Amnesty as well as more than 5,000 members of the public, but it does not reflect or respect the fact that this is an independent long term documentary project (still ongoing) in which many people in Burma as well as outside have put their lives on the line and continue to do so right now as we speak in order to get the world to stand up and take notice about the illegal incarceration of more than 2,150 political prisoners in Burma. To read about the actual “unique photo project” please read the Independent’s take on this matter. Amnesty International have of course done more than just arrange a few people to be photographed and they didn’t write the sub-heading that is misleading at best but unfortunate journalistic licence in order to attract attention like the large portrait that adorns both pages. Without Amnesty International being involved now in the capacity that they are there would be no major campaign, there would be no 5,000plus images of support being delivered by British Deputy Prime Minister to the ASEM meeting today and there would be no images of Nick Clegg himself and other world leaders, statesmen and celebrities standing in solidarity with the former political prisoners who are leading the way. Like the newspaper editor who said during the Saffron Revolution that Burma is only on the front pages because the colourful images of monks robes make good pictures, too often to get the world to listen you have to sanitize the truth. If a celebrity or even you or I can bring change to Burma and bring about the release of all political prisoners then I will be the first person to celebrate, but please don’t forget who it’s all about. Those who have suffered and those who continue to do so. They are the ones who are leading the way.

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Christopher Eccleston Stands Up For Burma

Christopher Eccleston, the English film, stage and television actor stands in solidarity with Burma’s political prisoners.

For Amnesty’s campaign using my work to raise awareness about Burma’s political prisoners they have been working hard to secure celebrities to be photographed and I was particularly pleased to meet Christopher Eccleston as he starred in one of my favourite films of all time “28 Days Later” and has just appeared on screens as one of my and no doubt your all time heroes, John Lennon, in “Lennon Naked“.

We met up in a private dining club in London’s Soho district back in August and it was great to be able to have time for a chat rather than just taking the portrait in few seconds before leaving. What a really great guy who was not just totally engaged in the idea of my work but more importantly in the issue of Burma’s political prisoners.

A huge thank you to Christopher Eccleston on behalf of Burma’s political prisoners.

Due to the way Amnesty International works with the celebrities it approaches (and the limited time celebrities have) they also get them to do other promotional work at the same time supporting other Amnesty campaigns or Amnesty in general including photographs with placards etc and so Amnesty use their own photographer. Unfortunately whilst it means I may not be able to photograph all these celebrities (I’m also often away as you can see) it’s just the way Amnesty work and it works with their campaign which is somewhat seperate to this long term documentary project that we are working on here with the political prisoners. This does however often leave me with the opportunity to discuss Burma and political prisoners with the celebrity when I am free to attend these shoots and that after all is more important than a photograph. The actual portrait of Christopher Eccleston was shot by Amnesty’s photographer Leo Cackett … or is that really me after all?

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Archbishop Tutu Demands The Release of Burma’s Political Prisoners

A massive moment for this campaign and it has been possible thanks to the Elders, an independent group of world leaders of which Archbishop Desmond  Tutu is the chair.
(Very special thanks to Katy Cronin and everyone at The Elders for their belief in this work and Burma’s political prisoners)

Full details can be read here on The Elders website

Archbishop Desmond Tutu demnads the release of Aung San Suu Kyi
and ALL of Burma’s political prisoners

“For me, Honorary Elder, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the living symbol of the Burmese people’s hope and courage. She is the embodiment of their determination to live in freedom, health and prosperity. That is why I have written her name on my hand.

“There are thousands of others who are also imprisoned and detained in Burma. Each of them is a sign of great hope, determination and courage. Please join Amnesty, the Elders and our fellow activists by naming each of Burma’s political prisoners, by holding that person’s name up and demanding their release.

“We condemn the ongoing detention of political prisoners. We call on Burma’s neighbours to make it clear to the military authorities that they must be released and that the people must be able to exercise their freedoms safely in the run-up to the elections on November 7.

“At every Elders meeting we always keep an empty chair for Daw Suu Kyi but she has never been able to join us. Work with us in the spirit shown by Burma’s activists, for the day when she and her fellow activists will be free.”

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The Faces Behind The Names Behind The Scenes…Taking Action

Please join these two leading Burmese activists and take your portrait in solidarity with Burma’s Political Prisoners and submit it to Amnesty’s campaign

With the Amnesty International campaign now in full swing I can finally release these portraits of two of the people involved in this project, both joining in and taking action to stand along side Burma’s political prisoners (not my portrait of course – the most likely time you’ll get to see that will be if I ever get caught). With the public now submitting their own portraits by the hundreds as we speak, I am still continuing my work taking portraits of former political prisoners all over the world – that’s my role and my work, but what I ask of you is that you take your portrait like my two colleagues have done here.

As most of you will know if you’ve been reading any of the blog entries from around the world, there is one person who is fundamental to this project, traveling by my side, assisting in all aspects and without her help and involvement this campaign would not be where it is today.

Jacquelin San taking action for fellow Zoology student Mie Mie and Burma’s Political Prisoners
outside Number 10 Downing Street in London

Jacquelin San, affectionately named the Secretary General by our good friend Ko Than Win Htut at DVB, is pictured here joining in the public campaign and adding her voice to the hundreds who have already taken part in the past few days since the campaign was launched. She fled Burma in 2000 after the student demonstrations in Rangoon in the late 1990s where she was a second year Zoology student at RC1 and sat demonstrating with hundreds of her colleagues in the road at Hledan junction in December 1996. The portrait is taken outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, the home of the British Prime Minister. Taking this campaign message about Burma’s political prisoners to the front door of the man holding power in the UK is an extraordinary achievement. Mr Cameron you are next so please open the door.

Waihnin Pwint Thon takes action in the House of Commons with her
father’s name written on her hand

Another person who has played a hugely significant part in this campaign is Waihnin Pwint Thon, daughter of 88 Generation Student leader Ko Mya Aye who is currently jailed in Taunggyi prison in Shan State where he is suffering from extreme ill health. he is serving a 65 year sentence plus six months for his role in peaceful demonstrations in 2007. Waihnin has not only been involved in helping me with my work in many ways, but she is also a leading campaigner for Burma and political prisoners in the UK where she works for both Amnesty International and Burma Campaign UK. Above all else she is an inspiration to me. She speaks with courage and determination and her father whom she has not seen for over half of her life would be incredibly proud of her. By taking part in this campaign she is making a stand not just for her father but for all of her fathers colleagues and all of the people of Burma.

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Zarganar Protests Planned for Edinburgh Festival

Article in the Democratic Voice of Burma about the huge amount of campaigning we will be doing at Edinburgh Festival in particular highlighting Zarganar/

Read the article on the DVB website

Htein Lin, artist and close friend of Zarganar, spent more than 6 years in prison. he has the name of his friend written on the palm of his hand.

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Dr Sein Win, Burma’s Prime Minister-in-Exile, Stands in Solidarity with Political Prisoners

Burma’s Prime Minister-in-exile and Chairman of the NCGUB, (National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma), Dr Sein Win, joined the campaign adding his voice to thousands around the world standing in solidarity for Burma’s political prisoners.

Dr Sein Win, cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, was born on the 16th of December 1944 in Taungdwingyi. His father was the elder brother of General Aung San and was part of the cabinet of Aung San – he was assassinated in 1947, together with Aung San and most members of the cabinet, just before Burma gained independence. After the 1988 uprisings, Dr Sein Win was the  Treasurer of the Information Department of the NLD and in charge of the Party for National Democracy (PND) and was elected Member of Parliament for Paukkhaung, Pegu Division. On 1st October 1990, in the aftermath of the election, a Special Leading Committee consisting of elected MPs and party members secretly met at a location on the Mandalay-Maymyo road and endorsed resolutions that were instrumental in the formation of a parallel government. Two elected representatives were sent to the Thai side to contact with the revolutionary forces and got their support. Several MPs headed by Dr. Sein Win left Burma for Manerplaw to form a government on the Thai-Burma border. The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma was officially formed in Manerplaw on 18 December 1990 with Dr Sein Win elected as Prime Minister.  One of the declared principles was that it would be dissolved once democracy and human rights are restored in Burma.

Dr Sein Win

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BURMA’S POLITICAL PRISONERS CAMPAIGN LAUNCH “Freedom In Your Hands”

“Freedom is in your hands – Use it for Burma’s political prisoners”

Take action NOW at the Amnesty UK website to demand their immediate release.

Finally, after many months hard work behind the scenes with Amnesty International as well as two years hard work on the road, today this project is officially becoming part of a major campaign action by Amnesty International to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all Burma’s political prisoners. This is a campaign action that YOU can be part of. TAKE ACTION, stand with Burma’s former political prisoners and demand the release of ALL of their colleagues who remain in jail today.

This campaign film is being used to launch the start of this major campaign by Amnesty International UK and we need you to play your part in placing insurmountable pressure on world leaders and the UN to bring about the release of Burma’s political prisoners. The campaign is being lead by the former political prisoners themselves but WE NEED YOU to stand with them. With this campaign we aim to collect thousands of portraits from people all over the world and put pressure on world leaders at the EU-Asia summit in October just days before the elections will be held in Burma.

Please visit the Amnesty UK website for full details.

It has taken almost two years of hard work by many people to get to this stage, but there is much, much more to do. This is just the start. This film requires some special thanks to the following people (in no particular order) for their hard work:
Everyone at AAPP and DVB and others who’s names I cannot mention; Jackie San (for filming everything); Verity & Laura at Amnesty UK; Paul & Tim at Handcrafted Films; but most importantly of all, I would like to thank the former political prisoners themselves who have taken part and those who I am yet to meet. Without you there is nothing, but with you there is everything. I will not stop until your colleagues are free.

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