Waiting for Aunty and the Washington Post

On a day that actually started the day before for many of us, we are still no closer to really knowing if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be released from her latest detention of house arrest. Rumours, counter rumours and a frenzy of expectation and hope saw hundreds line the streets in anticipation of the impending release of Burma’s democracy icon but the wait goes on – tomorrow is another day.

U Win Htein arrives at the NLD headquarters in Rangoon

U WIn Tin arrives at University Avenue

Throughout the day NLD leaders and hundreds of supporters gathered at both University Avenue and outside the NLD headquarters in Rangoon quietly waiting despite SPDC sponsored thugs watching closely and MI frantically photographing (I’m glad I don’t have to edit their photos later tonight!). The world’s media had to rely on second-hand information for the most part with only a handful of foreign journalists masquerading as tourists in Rangoon. Melissa Bell has posted about this project on the Washington Post today as Ba Ba U Win Tin must now hopefully only have to wait one more day.

Whether she is finally freed tomorrow may depend on her acceptance of conditions imposed on her by the regime, restricting her movements and political activities. You can be sure she will demand full freedom and accept nothing less. There are still 2,202 to come after her. She will be the first to remind the world about that before anything else.

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The Talk of the Town: Burma’s Political Prisoners and Lady Gaga

Surely the most bizarre yet still most welcome acclaim so far… the top 10 things being talked about in the “Talk of The Town” list sees Burma’s Political Prisoners coming 3rd in the list just behind Lady Gaga who takes the runner up spot!

It’s a mad mad world for sure and on the same day that George Clooney adopts the pose to be photographed by one of my all time hero’s Anton Corbijn for his book “Inside The American”. The only difference is that Clooney’s pose is not for my work or for Burma… it’s just a portrait for the cover of a book, but I wonder why he thought of the idea to be photographed this way… could it be that I sent him my portfolio in August 2009 asking him to become involved in my project due to his great work for Burma through ‘Not On Our Watch‘? (that not a lot of people know about). Whatever George… I’ll take the credit… for today the world just doesn’t make sense as more than 15,000 people flee Burma in the expected fall out from the election and political prisoners stand alongside Lady Gaga as well as clearly leaving their influence on one of the greatest photographers of all time as well as one of Hollywoods biggest stars.

George Clooney and a nice idea for a pose…

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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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Gioia Magazine – Burma’s Political Prisoners in Italy

Another feature article, but this time in Italian magazine ‘Gioia’. Thanks to Tiziana Lelo who is the picture editor at the magazine and also to Stefano Rejec for the interview.

Former political prisoners featured in the article are: Top Left – Yee Yee Htun; Centre – Bo Kyi; Bottom Right – Kyu Kyu Win. The article also features portraits from the Amnesty International campaign using this work and includes the portrait of Waihnin Pwint Thon who has her fathers name (Mya Aye) written on the palm of her hand.

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No Caption Needed: Bearing Witness To The Burmese Prison

A feature in the photographer’s showcase on the highly esteemed blog “No Caption Needed” that features iconic photographs, public culture and liberal democracy. No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

Read the post in full on the No Caption Needed website.

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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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AAPP Report: Torture, Political Prisoners and the Un-Rule of Law

A new report was released today by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) documenting torture faced by political prisoners – you can download it here and also it’s in the ‘AAPP Reports’ section on this site.

Written by Bo Kyi and Hannah Scott, the report “Torture, Political Prisoners and the Un-Rule of Law: Challenges to Peace, Security and Human Rights in Burma” provides further evidence for the case of a Commission of Inquiry to be established to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the SPDC – torture being just one of those crimes.

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Amnesty Netherlands Magazine

Another front page for Ba Ba U Win Tin and an accompanying feature article as well – with huge thanks to Jorn and Elke at Amnesty Netherlands for producing this great opportunity to continue raising awareness and profile of political prisoners.

Former political prisoners featured alongside U Win Tin are (clockwise top left to right): Htein Lin, U Zawana, Saw Than Hla, Daw San San and Kyaw Win Shwe.

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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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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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