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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The Cobbled Streets of London Hide 10 Years In Hell

Dateline London once again and despite knowing Ko Zaw Zaw Aung for some time, finally we manage to meet to chat and take his portrait. That’s the problem with constantly being on the move. Zaw Zaw Aung was a Rangoon University student when he was first arrested in March 1988 at the Phone Maw incident when he was detained for one week. Along with his colleagues, Htay Kywe, Min Zeya and others from the 88 Generation Students they re-formed the outlawed ‘BaKaTha’ student movement in the build up to the 1988 mass uprisings – and now it’s re-forming saw the birth of the ABFSU with Min Ko Naing installed as it’s president. The ABFSU or BaKaTha was formed in the 1920s and subsequently led by General Aung San. It has been at the forefront of the independence and pro-democracy struggles in Burma.

Zaw Zaw Aung

Along with his colleagues as one of the students leading the demonstrations he was arrested on 27th July 1989 and under sections 5(J) and 17(1) he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 5th November 1989. He spent 2 years in Insein prison before being transferred to Tharawaddy prison where he served his full 10 year sentence before being released in November 1999.

After his release from prison all he knew about were his previous political activities, but continuing them was virtually impossible due to constant surveillance and harassment from MI. He started working with his colleagues doing welfare, health and social programmes for political prisoners’ families. He was a founder of Pyinnyar Ahlin Yaung school in 17th District in South Dagon which provided education and welfare to 400 students including 150 orphans. In 2004 when Min Ko Naing and other student leaders from the 1988 movement were released he was able to join up with his colleagues in forming the 88 Generation Students which was officially formed in 2006. He worked alongside Ma Phyu Phyu Tin (NLD) providing care and assistance to HIV sufferers for more than 18 months. But faced with the ever-growing threat of being arrested once again he was forced to flee Burma – having already spent 10 years in jail he couldn’t face suffering the torture, abuse and mental and physical suffering he previously endured in jail so was forced to flee to the Thai-Burma border in November 2005. Like so many before him and so many still today, the inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the SPDC is in clear breach of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights in so many ways. Article 9 clearly states that “No-one shall be subjected to arbitrary detention, arrest or exile.” Yet again the case of Zaw Zaw Aung shows clear abuse of his human rights for all of these three things.

At Mae Sot he worked at AAPP before applying to join the UNHCR re-settlement programme. He spent over 1 year in Nupo refugee camp before being re-settled to the UK on 19th October 2007.

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Campaigning at Lovebox Festival in London

Last weekend Burma’s Political Prisoners made their first major appearance on the UK festival scene at both Lovebox and Latitude Festival courtesy of the Amnesty UK teams who were out in force. The campaign is launched in full in two weeks time so further details to follow very soon.

Amnesty will be taking the campaign to many more festivals over the summer in the UK culminating in the Edinburgh Festival where there will be a special evening dedicated to Zarganar and Burma’s Political Prisoners at the annual ‘Stand Up For Freedom‘ comedy event. This campaign will be exhibited once again and we will be in attendance with some of the team including Waihnin (daughter of 88 Generation Student leader Mya Aye) and artist and former political prisoner Htein Lin.

Lovebox Festival, London UK

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U Win Htein Freed After 20 Years In Hell

Some fantastic news this morning as U Win Htein was freed form Katha prison after serving nearly twenty years in prison.

Aung Myo Thein spent more than 6 years in Insein prison

(U) Win Htein served in the military for five years and became a Captain. He was PA (Personal Assistant) of then Commander-in-Chief General Tin Oo (now NLD Vice Chairman). He was arrested in 1980s for his involvement with Captain Ohn Kyaw Myin, who was hanged for state treason. (U) Win Htein was sentenced seven-year imprisonments.

During the 1988 popular uprising and when the National League for Democracy was formed, he became active member of the NLD and served as personal assistant and senior adviser of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo. He was arrested briefly in early 1989 and was severely tortured by the military intelligence. Then he was arrested again in 1989 and spent over five and a half year in prison until 1995.

On May 22, 1996, he was arrested again by the regime. He was accused that he provided false information to foreign media and providing fabricated news and information about the situation of farmers in the delta region, charged with two counts under Section 5 (J) of the Emergency Provision Act, and sentenced seven-year each for two cases, altogether 14-year imprisonment on August 15, 1996.

On Sep 23, 2008, he was released from Kathar Prison, Kathar Township, Sagaing Division, over a thousand miles away from his home town Rangoon. He stayed that night at a guest house in Kathar and called his wife. He asked her and other family members to come to Mandalay, middle point between Rangoon and Kathar, where they would meet and reunion. His wife, Daw Done Done, and family quickly left for Mandalay and they, together with NLD members from Mandalay, waited at the port to pick up (U) Win Htein, whom should be coming with a passenger boat from Kathar. However, he didn’t show up. Later, prison authorities contacted Daw Done Done and informed that they have put (U) Win Htein back in prison as some situation were changed.

Finally today after spending a total of more than 20 years in prison he is free.

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Burma’s Political Prisoners – THE BIG ISSUE

Burma’s political prisoners are officially The Big Issue. A great UK magazine (for what it stands for) has published a four page article featuring 10 portraits from the campaign and also the chance for all to see some that haven’t been seen before (I’m always trying to vary them as much as possible, but so far picture editors seem to be consistent in their choices to publish out of the 170 available!).

Unfortunately the magazine isn’t available online but you can view and download the article here:

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Radio Free Asia Interview at The Amnesty Exhibition

Just before the exhibition launched on Monday evening Radio Free Asia (RFA) did an interview with me about political prisoners and Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, also joined us. Thanks to Ma Aye Hnin Nyo for the interview – it was broadcast back into Burma on 24th June.

You can listen to it below by clicking on the icon:

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The Exhibition – Burma’s Political Prisoners at Amnesty International UK

The exhibition being held at Amnesty International UK headquarters in London is up and running and Monday evening was the Private View. It was actually really well attended by many close friends and colleagues and thanks must go to Amnesty International UK for hosting the event and their involvement now in the political prisoner campaign and special thanks must go to Daw Nita Yin Yin May and Khun Saing who both spoke about the issue of political prisoners and shared some of their experiences. Below is a short video news piece that DVB are broadcasting on their TV channel – you can also watch it here on Livestation.

I’d like to take this opportunity to also thank AAPP and DVB for their ongoing support and involvement in this project from the start right up to where we are now, also the many contacts and colleagues around the world and in particular in Mae sot and in Umpiem and Nupo refugee camps, also my right hand man woman, the Secretary General Miss J San herself who has carried cameras, interviewed, translated and filmed the action and stood in as a model on over 150 shoots as well as been the support system to this entire project.

Last, but of course not least, I wish to thank the former political prisoners themselves. Your courage and dignity knows no bounds and it is the greatest privilege to know you all and more importantly to be able to work with you all to bring about the release of your colleagues currently detained in the darkest hell on earth. We will not rest until they are free.

In total there are 21 images being exhibited… and as you would expect in keeping with Burmese tradition numerology plays a significant role in the selection of this amount of images. On 20th July 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi was detained under house arrest for the first time – almost exactly 21 years ago to the day from this exhibition. So, therefore, we have 21 portraits on display, marking one for each year since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was first placed under house arrest.

This is just the start… I hope the Generals are up for the fight.

Video reproduced here with kind permission of Democratic Voice of Burma – © Copyright and not to be reproduced without permission

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Caught on Camera: Burma’s Political Prisoners

Continuing the ongoing partnership with The Independent newspaper, a brief article and full gallery of images is posted on The Independent website ahead of the private view of the exhibition being held on Monday 21st June 2010 at Amnesty International UK headquarters in London. In total there are 21 portraits of former political prisoners that make up the exhibition at Amnesty International  – one for every year since Aung San Suu Kyi was first placed under house arrest.

You can read the article and view the exhibition images here: The Independent

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Roll Cameras and Action… A Short Film in the Making

This project is now well and truely being taken to the masses on a global scale. Amnesty International UK are now fully on board with this political prisoner work and it’s set to become a major part of their campaign work for Burma and obviously that means creating a huge amount of awareness of the political prisoner issue. The idea remains sacred in that former political prisoners are leading the way in demanding the release of their colleagues currently detained. What we want the world to do now is stand with them.

The last three weeks have been hectic beyond belief planning and meeting people and we’ve decided to make a short film about the project to date and incorporate a message to ask the world to stand with Burma’s former political prisoners and take action to demand the release of all those currently detained. The film will be released in late June/early July but for now you can see some of the behind the scenes photographs where Waihnin Pwint Thon, daughter of 88 Generation Student leader Mya Aye, joins in the campaign by writing the name of her father on her hand and taking action to stand with the former political prisoners who are leading the way.

To view full gallery of images click HERE

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