What Next for Burma’s Political Prisoners

The timing couldn’t have been better. On the day the farcical amnesty by Burma’s government saw just 36 political prisoners released we had the perfect opportunity to deliver and repeat Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s own message that thousands still remain behind bars and that their release is fundamental to national reconciliation and Burma’s future.

Images of former political prisoners shown at the Brighton Festival curated by Aung San Suu Kyi

This year’s Brighton Festival is being directed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from afar and conducted on the ground with the help of Burma Campaign UK who have been instrumental in putting on a number of events to raise profile and the issues of Burma. One event being the “What Next For Burma” debate that we attended last night with friends and family and at the request of the festival directors, projected the faces of more than 200 former political prisoners onto the huge screen in front of an audience of more than 500 who had come to hear an authoritative discussion on Burma’s Future. An exclusive first showing of The Lady’s own portrait adorned the screen throughout the informative talk whilst the esteemed panel chaired by Polly Toynbee and accompanied by Sue Lloyd Roberts, former ambassador Robert Gordon, Peter Popham and Mark Farmaner & Zoya Phan from the Burma Campaign UK who discussed with vigour the issues of sanctions, China and two Burma’s. Without the inclusion of an alternative viewpoint such as that of Derek Tonkin and the like, the debate was able to be more informative for the audience rather than become a political war-ground that ends up revolving around arguments on sanctions, investment and opposing viewpoints – in actuality issues that were succinctly dealt with by Mark Farmaner on several occasions. This format was therefore more suited to what is after all an ‘Arts Festival’, but perhaps at the same time one left unsure of what is really next for Burma especially on this day when yet another obscene gesture from the Burmese government defies global demands to release all political prisoners immediately.

The first news we had of the release of political prisoners came early in the morning with a text confirming one person released from Thayet, soon to be followed by murmurings that Zayar Thaw was also released, which was later confirmed by GW friends. In all, yet another gesture that cannot even be deemed ‘token’. It is a sure sign if ever one was needed that this is still a country under the supreme control of a brutal military machine that has no care for any opposition to its authoritarian rule and takes no heed of half-baked condemnation and demands from the UN and others. So, What next for Burma?

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Interviews All Round But Caution Abound

The media frenzy continues as the world waits in delight and anticipation to hear Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speak (some appearing increasingly desperate to speak to the Lady themselves whilst those both trusted and respected are able to share her words with the world). Almost every leading campaigner and activist gave a media interview of one sort or another over the past few days, but there is always a moment when a new leading voice can be heard for the first time and most certainly not the last, usurping many others around her. Jacqueline San, a leading campaigner at Burma Campaign UK and also for Burma’s political prisoners as a whole as part of the team producing this project gave a radio interview along with Baroness Caroline Cox from HART – click on the player below to listen:

Jacqueline San stands in solidarity with Burma’s political prisoners outside 10 Downing Street

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Jumping for Burma’s Political Prisoners

Today, Waihnin Pwint Thon, daughter of jailed 88 Generation Student leader Ko Mya Aye and leading campaigner and activist in her own right, jumped higher and further than most to raise awareness for Burma’s political prisoners. Spurred on by a number of close friends and colleagues, she leapt from a crane 150ft above south-east London with nothing more than a large elasticated rope tied to her legs to raise awareness for Burma’s Political Prisoners. She also raised an awful lot of sponsorship money (you can still sponsor her here) which will not only go towards Burma Campaign UK and their campaign work for Burma’s political prisoners but also at Waihnin’s request a large percentage of money raised is going direct to the former political prisoners who have been forced to flee Burma and now live a stateless and perilous existence on the Thai-Burma border in the refugee camps of Umpiem Mai and Nupo and also in safe houses in Mae Sot and the surrounding border areas. There, their lives are in grave danger and today Waihnin played a small part that she was able to try to help them.

Below is a short video message to those former political prisoners from Waihnin and Khun Saing issued at her request.

As DVB VJs we were hard at work today and here’s one cut of the days events – the other cut will be broadcast on DVB TV channel soon.

On the Thai-Burma border the former political prisoners have no status for they are not recognised as refugees and face the very real threat of imminent return to Burma at any moment. There is no protection by the UNHCR. There is no work, no right to be there, no life. They have left Burma with nothing and often also leaving their families behind. The money raised today by Waihnin will go a very long way in helping them.

You can read a great recent interview with Waihnin here at The Irrawaddy where she explains her reasons for this jump as well as her recent work.

“I think your personal conviction is more important than which organization you are working for. For me, I wish to work in the struggle for human rights. I wish to see the people of Burma and all countries enjoying human rights and freedom. Since I believe that I am working for the good of the Burmese people, I have no special attachment to any particular organization.”

Her father would be proud of her efforts today in once again further highlighting the issue of Burma’s political prisoners. In doing this jump today she has raised a huge amount of money that will go a long way to helping the people of Burma and it’s current and former political prisoners.

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