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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Political Activist and Former Political Prisoner Speaking Tour to New Zealand

My good friend and former political prisoner Aung Khaing Min who works at the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, will be visiting New Zealand on a 10 day tour giving a first-hand account of his own experiences as an activist and political prisoner in Burma and the personal struggles the people of Burma face. He was just 14 years old when he first stood up to the regime in 1988 and has spent 5 years in prison for his political activities. Aung Khaing Min will also be asking the New Zealand Government what they are doing for the people of Burma. His visit from October 10th-20th is part of Amnesty International’s Freedom campaign.

For full details of his trip please visit Amnesty New Zealand

Aung Khaing Min was jailed for 5 years in Insein and Taungoo prisons


His brother’s name ‘Chit Ko Lin’ is written on his hand.
Chit Ko Lin is serving a 7 year sentence in Pakokku prison

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Waihnin Pwint Thon Speaks for Burma and Political Prisoners at the UK Labour Party Conference

The issue of Political Prisoners and Burma has taken centre stage today at the annual British Labour Party conference being held in Manchester, UK. The short film made about this political prisoner work was shown as an introduction to a speech from Waihnin Pwint Thon, daughter of jailed 88 Generation Student leader Ko Mya Aye,

 

Waihnin Pwint Thon demands the release of her father Mya Aye

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Burma’s Political Prisoner’s Launch Photomonth Festival

Internationally renowned photography festival “Photomonth” celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and who better to take centre stage on the launch night other than Burma’s political prisoners. The official website is launching soon but you can read more about the festival here on ‘The Arts Hub’.

To have my name mentioned in the same breath as my hero Philip Jones Griffiths is enough for me, but it’s huge exposure and awareness for the issue of Burma and political prisoners that is most important as the launch party will generate good media attention.

Download your invitations here and come and show your support for Burma’s political prisoners.

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i-D Magazine: Raising a Hand For Suu

‘The Arch’ keeps raising the profile, this time its a feature in the iconic creative, arts and fashion magazine i-D. Curated by Tricia Jones, the section of i-D called “Soul i-D” features interviews, films and charity projects from around the world relating to the 2008 book SOUL i-D. As with previous projects and photo essays I’ve done on Burma featured in Dazed & Confused, it’s great to be able to cross over into a whole new audience to raise awareness about Burma’s plight.

Full article here on the i-D magazine website

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Tutu Raises A Hand For Suu Kyi

With the Arch’s portrait now officially released, DVB write up an article which will hopefully help spread the message not just further around the world but further inside Burma as well.

Full article here on the DVB website

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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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Oitzarisme – Creative, Film, Photography and Fashion

Online article on the Creative, Film, Photography and Fashion blog in Romania “Oitzarisme” – you can see the article here

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From Rangoon to London. One Underground to Another.

Picking up from where we left off with Zaw Zaw Aung the other day we continued with shooting in London’s famously fashionable Shoreditch district, although this time we went underground. After all that is where political prisoners roots are and none more so than my friend Aung Gyi who it was a great pleasure to catch up with and take his portrait. Special thanks as always to DVB for filming and Jacqueline San for making this happen.

In 1988 Aung Gyi was a high school student at BEHS3 in South Okkalapa township in Rangoon. He was Secretary of the South Okkalapa division of the student organization the “Democratic Front” and was heavily involved in organizing and carrying out actions aagainst the regime such as leafleting and dropping pamphlets, putting up posters and banners and graffiti on walls in busy areas. Along with most of the colleagues in his group he was arrested at home one evening in August 1990 and ended up being charged under section 5J and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.  He spent two years in Insein and Taungoo prisons before being released in August 1992.

DVB VJ ‘Sam’ films whilst Jackie writes the name of a
Shwebo prison cellmate on Aung Gyi’s palm

After his release he rejoined his colleagues in the movement for underground activities. He was involved in the 1996 student demonstrations but he managed to escape being caught by the authorities, unlike many of his colleagues who were returned to prison. He spent 3 years in hiding in a poultry farm in an area just outside of Rangoon. Whilst he was in hiding he got married – a quiet, secretive wedding ceremony in a small monastery. In 2001 he started working as a reporter for a Rangoon sports journal “First Eleven”. He worked with Zaw Thet Htwe who was chief editor at that time. In 2003 Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested for an article that had been written about alleged corruption in the Burmese football association abusing money given to them by the world football governing body FIFA. Zaw Htet Thwe was arrested and sentenced to death and Aung Gyi was also arrested but this time was released after interrogation. In 2005 he was contacted again by some of his former collegues who had now been released from prison with the aim of starting up a network of undercover journalists inside the country and the first DVB networks were established. Aung Gyi left his sports journal job and set up his own advertising and film editing company, again helping to provide a cover for his secret activities now as an undercover video journalist.
In 2007 he was involved in the Saffron Revolution and with the footage that the world would see provided by the network of Burma VJs the authorities were hot on his trail and he was arrested again in November 2007. His arrest was a farcical story, but I cannot share that with you here. He was detained for a year before being sentenced to 2 years in prison. He was released in September 2009 from Shwebo prison. It was now too dangerous for him to stay in the country anymore and with his wife and young child he fled Burma on 1st January 2010.  He has now been resettled to the UK but like so many former political activists who flee, he is left waiting for his family to join him.

One has to spare a thought and thank Than Shwe for disbanding Burma’s once famed intelligence network in 2004 which lead to the jailing of hundreds of intelligence officers (two of whom Aung Gyi was jailed with in Shwebo prison) and the detention of General Khin Nyunt under house arrest. If the intelligence services had been left with their previous powers then not only would Aung Gyi still be in prison today, but so would so many of his colleagues and no-one would have known anything about the ‘Saffron Revolution’.

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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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