“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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You Are NOT a Refugee… You Are a Political Prisoner

Possibly the biggest issue as well as danger faced by former political prisoners when they flee Burma and arrive in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border is that they are not recognised as a refugee. In essence this means that they are not safe and their lives are in great danger as they can be returned to Burma at any moment if caught by the Thai authorities. With many Burmese agents, informers and spies on the border area there is a very clear and present danger for all those who arrive here. Having spent years in prison for their political beliefs and activities, they manage to flee the country at great risk, arrive in the assumed free outside world where they are not free or safe. They become stateless people. They are still prisoners.

Throughout our time here on the Thai-Burma border we have been documenting the lives, current situations and dangers that the former political prisoners face upon fleeing Burma and arriving here in Thailand. Some make their way into either Umpiem Mai or Nupo refugee camps – not through official channels of course because you see these people aren’t seen as refugees and therefore can’t be given the protection that the camps have to offer (they have to make their own way there… you work it out). Others are left to survive in safe houses with colleagues who have also made the treacherous journey in fleeing Burma over the past years. The UNHCR of course state that their hands are tied by Thailand’s own policy on refugees because it hasn’t signed up to the 1951 Geneva Refugee convention (see below). Unfortunately they wouldn’t answer my calls to meet to discuss this issue. But when you can prove that you have been in prison for your political activities because not only do you have your release card from jail but also your ICRC certificate from when they visited you in prison and documented you and gave you a ‘Special Detainee’ number, when you can prove without doubt your past background as an activist, the torture you have suffered at the hands of the military regime, the years you have spent in Burma’s gulags and therefore without doubt the very real threat to your safety if you are returned to Burma then surely you are a refugee? Clearly the UNHCR and Thailand think differently as more than 100 former political prisoners are living in fear each day that they may be returned at any moment to the SPDC who you can be damned sure know exactly who these people are. It’s why they jailed them in the first place. And what of the third countries that are waiting to take these people who wish to resettle? The USA is leading the way… that was until they put all cases on hold.

Take this for an example (a very brief summary and you can read more on a previous post of Nupo refugee camp). A former MP for the National League for Democracy who spent 2 years in Insein prison in 1990 having been charged with high treason. He meets a US diplomat in Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound with her in 1995. He flees Burma to Thailand. He later meets the same US diplomat when he is working for the NCUB. People therefore know who this man is – he is an MP from the NLD who was jailed because of exactly that reason. His health is failing due to the torture he suffered when he was being interrogated in Burma. He has to stop working. His son flees Burma to be with him. They make their way into Nupo refugee camp to try to get resettlement to a third country – he is fast tracked by the UNHCR (probably because no-one wants to have the death of someone of his stature on their hands). But then the US Department of Homeland Security decides to put his case on hold. No-one knows why. In the meantime in a bizarre twist of fate, his perfectly healthy son is resettled to the USA. He is still in Nupo refugee camp some 2 years later – still on hold and unable to re-apply to another country until the US decides his fate. There can surely be no doubt whatsoever as to who he is because after all one of their diplomats met him with Aung San Suu Kyi? Then there’s the story of the former political prisoner resettled to the UK yet his wife and young child are still stuck in a refugee camp waiting and praying that one day they will be able to join him and start to live their life… but she is being refused resettlement. Then there is the story of the former political prisoner in a refugee camp who complained about the amount of food rations he and his colleagues were receiving. He was taken away at night into the forest to be shot. Thankfully his colleagues found out in time and he was returned to camp. These are just some of the stories and unfortunately there are hundreds more.

So the question is what’s going on… not just with these cases but with policy in general with regards to political refugees fleeing Burma?

We are busy working with NGO’s and other contacts on highlighting the situation faced by former political prisoners upon fleeing Burma and will report back soon as our work progresses. We hope to be able to present our findings to the British Government.

The 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention is the foundation of international protection of refugees. It defines a refugee as someone outside their own country unable or unwilling to return owning to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. It sets out the kind of legal protection, other assistance and social rights a refugee should receive from the 141 states that are now party to the Convention. It was the first international agreement that spelled out a set of basic human rights that should be at least equivalent to freedoms enjoyed by foreign nationals living legally in a given country and, in many cases, those of citizens of that state. These include freedom of religion and movement, and the right to work, education and accessibility to travel documents. A key provision stipulates that refugees should not be returned to a country where they fear persecution. It also spells out people or groups of people who are not covered by the Convention. For more information, see www.unhcr.ch/1951convention/51qanda.html

As Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees they are able to implement their own criteria for assessing if someone is in genuine need of protection. To date the guidelines that have been used have been very narrow and only include fleeing fighting. The argument put forward by the Thai authorities for not accepting new arrivals is that the people who are seeking shelter are not fleeing fighting but looking for resettlement opportunities.

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Nupo Refugee Camp March 2010

For full details on the time spent in Nupo refugee camp please click HERE. Below is a short video documenting the former political prisoners photographed in the camp.

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Thailand Day 8: Nupo Refugee Camp – The Return

Click HERE to view all of the portraits of former political prisoners in Nupo refugee camp.

An early start for what will be a long day – or rather an intensive day as we have to try and wrap things up before the sun gets too high overhead and we’re left with nothing but shadows and highlights. Last night we had a meeting with many of the former political prisoners here in Nupo to learn more about their current precarious situation living in the camp and the ongoing disgraceful situation in regards to the UNHCR resettlement program. There is great fear amongst many here that they will be returned to Burma – all refugees that is – after the election. There are already noises being made from Thai authorities than suggest that this could be the case. Perhaps this goes some way in explaining why the USA has all cases currently on hold. So it’s an early start after sleeping in the camp last night and after morning coffee in the school’s coffee shop “Memento” we started with the portraits. Luckily a group of former political prisoners met us early at ESC school so we started looking for suitable backdrops around the school.

First up were Myint Oo (5 years in Insein, Bago and Taungoo prisons), Kyaw Han (3 years in Sittwe prison) and Zaw Win Naing (4 years in Myeik prison). The day is almost a race against the clock as we have to get the last line car out of Nupo at about 3pm or we get stuck here (no bad thing in my book) but with a tight schedule we cant afford any more slip ups like yesterday. Also it’s a race against the sun – in fact the whole thing is one continual race around everywhere, tracking people down, trying not to draw too much attention to yourself – it’s a total challenge that is impossible to do without the ever present help of Thiha and of course the Secretary-General Jacquelin San who as well as being on interview duty and translation is also filming everything – and she’s getting very good at it to!

First ones in the can (as they say) and we spend the next few hours trekking across Nupo camp starting in Section 16 where all POCs are living. It’s a cramped section of the camp in comparison to almost all other areas – another hardship faced by former political prisoners and their associates – conditions also vary across the camp depending on the usual things in life – how how much money you have and who you know. The portraits keep coming thick and fast – first up my good friend Ma Khin Cho Myint @ Zulu who was photographed for the 3rd time (the previous two political prisoners had been released so she now is known by everyone as having the lucky hand!). She was jailed for 6 years in Insein and Moulmein prisons. Zulu has been the main organiser here in Nupo so a massive thanks to her for making today come together so well. Making our way swiftly through Section 16 we pick up quite a crowd along the way, one by one having their portrait taken as we desperately try to quickly find differing yet most importantly interesting backgrounds to be able to take the portraits – Kyaw Win Swe (7 years in Insein and Mandalay prisons), Kyi Toe (3 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons), Kyaw Zaw (11 years in Insein and Kalay prisons), Su Su Win (8 years in Insein prison), Kyaw Tint Oo (2 years in Maubin prison), Win Hlaing (6 years in Insein and Thayet prisons), Yu Yu Hlaing (1 year in Myant prison) and her husband Soe Moe (6 years in Dawei prison). We also had time in passing to catch up with Lwin Lwin Myint (U Gambira’s sister) who with her husband were busy building their new house.

Heading across towards the monastery on the other side of the camp we take a detour to the graveyard where two former political prisoners who died whilst in the camp are buried. U Than Myint (who’s wife and child we met and photographed – see above) passed away on 23rd January 2009 aged 52. He was a member of the NLD and BPPU. Unfortunately I never had the chance to meet him but when I visited in July last year I met Myo Khin. He had been jailed for 7 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prison and he was suffering form bad health coupled with no home in the camp – his life was one of extreme hardship and makes you seriously reflect on everything you have in comparison. He died on 15th December 2009 aged 53. He was a member of the NLD and BPPU. I was very sad to hear that he had passed away in  of liver failure amongst other serious health problems. Both men had gravestones in the rundown graveyard of Nupo camp – it was a true moment of reflection and sadness. Our final stop was over at the monastery to photograph U Aubar before making our way back through the wide open boulevards (in comparison!) of the Karen section of the camp to ESC Nupo for a final meal and well earned rest before catching the line car back to Umphang. Yet another brief but totally exhausting and truely rewarding time spent in Nupo camp. I thank you all for everything that you did and hope that in turn we can in some way help with your current situation. God knows we’ll try.

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Thailand Day 7: Umpiem, Nupo… Houston We Have a Problem.

The usual early start heading south to Umpiem Mai refugee camp but we only just make the line car as it’s packed up and ready to go half an hour early! The day ahead is going to be hectic – there are more than 30 former political prisoners in Umpiem Mai refugee camp and most of them will be photographed today. Getting into the camps is often a game of cat and mouse with the authorities. Either a few hundred baht changes hands and a look the other way as you sneak in the gate or if you’re lucky you may be able to sneak in without having to pay some tea money. Either way the bottom line is you’re not supposed to be going in – the Thai authorities don’t want photos, videos and reports coming out of what like is life inside these camps. The usual way is to be a ‘Teacher’ or ‘Missionary’ for the day. But today I am concerned about getting in as we have company with us which on a normal day I would be more than happy to have but today is about the issues we are trying to cover for former political prisoners and we can’t afford getting caught or not getting in to the camp.

The route south is nothing but the usual – checkpoints where those without papers are hauled aside and have to part with whatever cash they have to be able to continue their journey. It’s just another part of the perilous life of a stateless person on the Thai-Burma border being exposed to corruption at every turn. About 30 minutes from Umpiem Mai cmap we are pulled over at the top of a hill by the Thai police – it’s a random checkpoint and there about 30 police in total – many armed, ready and waiting to fill their pockets with a little extra cash for the weekend – they are in for a nice surprise when they stop us as we had just picked up 19 Karen refugees on their way to a day’s farming… a handsome reward for the Thai police even if they had to do their best to extort money away from the eyes and ears of the foreigners amongst us on the line car – we filmed what we could and you can just make out the Karen woman ‘talking’ to the police in the clip above.

We finally make it to Umpiem Mai and meet Kyaw Soe Win at the gate as planned, but this is where the plans go wrong (as I had expected form the start). There is no way we are going to be allowed in today as we are too many people. If it had just been Thiha, me and Jackie then no problem – we could sneak in as normal, but with the extra (white western) faces accompanying us its obviously a no go. No time to be disappointed as when one door shuts another opens and we change around our entire schedule and decide to head straight to Nupo and come back here on Sunday… when the Palat is away!… (just us 3) providing we can catch the last line car form Umphang and also get a message to the camp that we are on our way (they aren’t expecting us until tomorrow). There is no phone reception in Nupo camp but with the wonders of modern technology I send a Facebook message via my iPhone to John Glenn in Houston, Texas, who then in turn gets a message to our contacts in Nupo Camp informing them of our imminent arrival… Houston we have a problem!! Digital democracy at it’s very best!! We catch the next line car down to Umphang and just make the last connection to Nupo camp by the skin of our teeth. It’s becoming a bit of a habit just making these connections wherever we are in the world… it’s as though it’s just meant to happen.

The road to Nupo has been vastly improved since my last visit just 6 months ago and we arrive much quicker than expected giving us time to take several portraits in the early evening before the light disappears – the call ahead had already been made by John Glenn from in Houston to prepare whoever was available – great teamwork! So here we are back at ESC Nupo (English Speaking Course) and a warm welcome as always – it’s great to see Robin, Min Zaw Oo, Ton and everyone again and a real honour to be able to stay in the camp at the school. This part of the trip wouldn’t be possible without the help from all at ESC so a huge thanks to you all. Nupo camp is home to approximately 25+ former political prisoners, mostly living in Section 16 and most of whom I photographed on my last visit back in July. But the light was not so good back then and the portraits were all rushed and also with many of the same backgrounds. Also most importantly, with the Leica back in my hands these portraits will simply rock. So without any delay we decide to get the shoots underway as tomorrow we will only have the morning to work with as it gets too bright after about 11am and we have to head back to Umphang and then on to Umpiem Mai on Sunday.

This time our trip to the camps is taking on an extra dimension as we are also documenting the current perilous situation for former political prisoners on the Thai-Burma border where they are basically stateless people as they are not being recognised as refugees by the UNHCR or Thai authorities. You can read more about this issue on a seperate blog entry here. The first person who we not only take a portrait of but spend some time interviewing is U Chit Tin, a former member of parliament for the NLD. Jailed for high treason in 1990 when he was one of 35 NLD MPs who met in Mandalay to form an alternative government, U Chit Tin is now awaiting resettlement like so many here in the refugee camps. (You can read about his story here). U Chit Tin spent 2 years in Insein prison and amongst other things in his life as an NLD MP he was in the lead car in front of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when they were attacked at Depayin. Imagine an MP from your Government going through that as well as torture and oppression for 16 years and now being forced to live in a refugee camp… A complete and utter farce is the only polite way to describe this mess.

With the light fading we manage to take 5 more portraits this evening which makes all the hassle and misfortunes of earlier pale into insignificance. We photograph Naing Linn (2 years in Pathein prison); Moe Kyaw Aung (7 years in Insein & Tharwaddy prisons); Than Oo Myint (1 year in Moulmein prison); Moe Kyi (3 years in Insein, Bago & Tharawaddy prisons) and finally Soe Myint Aung (3 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons).

Please click HERE for full size images of the above portraits

As the evening drew to a close we headed back to ESC for some dinner and a good catch up with everyone. It may sound strange to say it but it’s great to be here and I only hope that next time I come back we can have made huge in-roads on not only the political prisoner issue inside Burma but also that of those in peril as stateless people living in these camps.

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Burma’s Monks Challenge Junta

The Buddhist monks of Burma have delivered an ultimatum to the Burmese military government: If the government will not apologize for and stop the persecution, assassination and contempt of Buddhist monks and the people of Burma until October 2nd. 2009, a second wave of the Saffron-Revolution including demonstrations of the monks will take place, starting on October 3rd in Burma.

For more details visit Democracy for Burma

(Top row left to right)

U Teza was detained for 8 years in Insein and Thayarwaddy prisons.
U Kyaw Myint was detained for 3 years in Insein prison.

(Bottom row left to right)

U Naing Linn was detained for 2 years in Pathein prison.
U Win Naing was detained for 5 years in Mandalay prison

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Thailand Day 12: Nu Po Refugee Camp

Six hours drive south of Mae Sot lies Nu Po refugee camp. Noh Poe as it is also often called, means “small lake” in Karen and is home to almost 15,000 people who have fled their native Burma. Many former political prisoners are sent here when they escape across the border in Thailand and the most of the refugees in the POC/PAB sector are political activists who have been involved in the democracy movement since 1988.

Thanks to my good friends at ESC Nupo I managed to photograph almost 30 former political prisoners whilst here. The total now photographed for the project is up to 76. All images are available for viewing here. My personal connections with Nu Po go back several years due to a friendship established with John Glenn, a former political prisoner and founding member of the English Speaking Course (ESC Nupo). The school was formed in 2007 out of the huge demand for English classes in particular for adults. The programme relies almost solely upon private donations and funds that can be raised by those who work and live there. Foreign teachers have been recruited and an incredible school building that contains classrooms, a computer room, sleeping quarters, school office and much more. It is a truly remarkable place, run by truly remarkable people – a real home from home. Pictured here is Ma Lwin Lwin Myint, younger sister of U Ashin Gambira the prominent monk and leader of the Saffron Revolution in 2007. Since her brother was detained in 2007 and due to his high profile activism, Ma Lwin and all of her family members have suffered continual harassment and persecution from the military junta and its thugs in the USDA and Swan Arr Shin. Many of them have been subsequently detained and jailed but she managed to evade capture.
Along with her husband, Ko Lu Maw Naing, she played a prominent role in delivering aid and providing assistance to victims of Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy Delta. This was the final straw for the junta who literally put out a warrant for her arrest. She fled to the border with her husband in 2008 and they are currently living in Nu Po refugee camp and studying at ESC Nupo. Her brother U Gambira was sentenced in November 2008 to 65 years imprisonment and in january 2009 was transfered to the remote Khandee prison in Sagaing Division. Ma Lwin told me that despite suffering torture and persecution as a political prisoner in jail, her brother is in good health and above all in good spirits. Both Ma Lwin and Ko Maw are journalists for the Burma Student Post which is produced by ESC Nupo and to which I am very proud to be the sponsor.

Below are a selection of former political prisoners photographed in Nu Po camp – visit ENIGMA IMAGES website to see all 24.

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Lwin Lwin Myint, sister of U Gambira, talks of her brother’s experience

Interview with Ma Lwin Lwin Myint and Ko Lu Maw Naing (sister and brother-in-law to U Gambira). U Gambira is currently detained in Kalay prison in Sagaing division serving a 68 year sentence. The interview took place on July 20th 2009 in Nu Po refugee camp on the Thai Burma border where they are both currently living as refugees having been forced to flee Burma for their own security.

JM James Mackay

LL Lwin Lwin Myint (U Gambira’s sister)

KM Ko Lu Maw (U Gambira’s sister’s husband)

JM When was the last time that you saw your brother?

LL September 2008 in Insein prison

JM How was he?

LL He was ok

JM What is his opinion of the charges against him?

KM He was unlawfully accused in the first place. It is a crime he didn’t commit. Even the students in that movement (saffron revolution) did not commit the charges against them. U Gambira was charged under the Electronic Act which is using the internet – they make using the internet a crime. Another charge against him is religious disrespectfulness. This charge was put against him because during the September uprising all the monks praying on the streets it made the generals look bad. This is what the unlawful charges are against U Gambira, he is not guilty and I am sure he will feel the same. Four different occasions under the Electronic act added up to 20 years, so 5 years for each occasion. And the religious act added up to a total of 68 years.

JM When you last saw him he hadn’t been sentenced because he was sentenced in November 2008. Have you had any contact with him since then

LL Yes, my family have. We had to flee Burma before his trial.

JM Why did you both have to leave Burma?

KM We are activists in the movement. I was along side my brother in law (U Gambira) in the September 2007 movement.

JM Was the SPDC threatening you as a family member of U Gambira?

KM/LL Currently the younger brother, the older brother and her sister’s husband have been arrested. The parents are being watched constantly – they were called to Rangoon to be a witness in the court and if they don’t go they will be arrested. Currently in their home in Meitkila there is intelligence people watching. Also at the home of her oldest sister in Rangoon they are outside watching always.

JM Why are all your family members in prison? Is it because U Gambira is so prominent or is it because of their own activities?

KM They were arrested because of U Gambira’s political activities. First the SPDC tried to force U Gambira to stop his political activities and be on their side, but he refused. So they turned to the family members and told them to persuade U Gambira to stop, but they also refused. That is how they all ended up in prison.

JM Was that before U Gambira was sentenced?

LL Yes, that was whilst he was in court on trial.

JM So that would explain why he received such a long sentence.

KM Even now, they still approach the eldest sister in Rangoon, saying they will give her support and money if she will do as they say – to act for them and persuade her brother to stop. They want U Gambira to cut his connection with the movement. Even recently, a month ago, they approached her to talk to U Gambira for them.

JM So SPDC are attempting to force all leading activists to stop their activities, and if they don’t stop they give them even longer sentences to ensure the threat goes away

KM Yes, this is right. U Gambira has been a monk since he was 12 and he became a prominent activist leader in 2006. He is now 30 years old on June 19 the same day as Daw Suu and he is a leader so he is a threat to them.

JM The important thing for the international community to see is that he is a monk not a criminal. He is a revered person. They have charged him with religious disrespectfulness but do they treat him with disrespect in the same way that they treat other political prisoners in jail?

KM Yes – just the same kinds of torture. In 2008 October the government military intelligence gave him some milk and he got very sick. Eventually they sent him to the prison hospital. He was vomiting and was very weak – he suffered from severe exhaustion and headaches. He was there for nearly one month. Also at night only to U Gambira’s cell they shone a very strong light all night long towards his eyes to mentally torture him. That was all before he was sentenced.

LL In January 2009 he was sent from Insein to Mandalay prison. In that point in Mandalay he kept doing his Buddhist practice every day and during his time walking and chanting he was protesting also and was requesting to meet with Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi. Also he did one week hunger strike in Mandalay prison to protest. Then he was put into solitary confinement for one month because of this. Then he was moved to Kande prison. Again he did hunger strike in Kande prison. One time In Kande prison when he was allowed out of his cell, he refused to go back, again demanding a meeting with Than Shwe and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. They beat him and dragged him back to his cell. Then he transferred to Kalay prison in Sagaing division where he is now.

JM Now he is in Kalay prison it is almost impossible for your parents to visit him, this is a tactic they use against high profile activists to make them suffer even more.

LL Yes they have done this to all of my family – my older brother is in Taungyi prison, younger brother is in Kyaukphu prison and my brother in law is in Moulmein prison. My parents live in Meitkila so it is very difficult for them to visit him.

JM Is it because of their connection to U Gambira or because of their activities?

LL A combination of both. My brother and my brother in law were both arrested on the anniversary of the September 2007 demonstrations last year. They planned to hold a prayer ceremony and then release balloons to mark the anniversary but they were arrested the night before. They both were sentenced to 5 years each.

JM Do you worry that your remaining family members not arrested will be arrested and targeted as well.

LL We are worried for them all of the time. They are targeted and watched all of the time but my parents and oldest sister cannot flee because they have to stay to look after the family members in prison.

JM So in a way they have become prisoners themselves even though they are not in jail. Again this seems to be another tactic of the SPDC to make life difficult for any kind of opposition.

KM Even when the election is finished the high profile people won’t be released. High profile people like U Gambira, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Min Ko Naing, 88 Generation are the biggest threat to the SPDC so they will not release them

JM Do you fear then that you will never see your brother again?

LL We hope that one day we will see him again when the situation changes but I still worry for all my family in prison. U Gambira is suffering from weak nervous system because of the incident with the milk in Insein prison

KM When that happened they didn’t let him see the doctor or give him medical treatment. They kept him in his cell. Only after I wrote letters and emails to the media about this incident, they changed their mind because of the media pressure and he was submitted to prison hospital. He is mentally strong but physically weak because of this attempted poisoning and beatings so we worry very much for him.

JM Ban Ki-Moon constantly re-iterates that the UN want to see all political prisoners released yet very little changes. What do you feel the UN should do?

KM The UN should take action in an effective way in the Security Council like they did in Sudan – with the president of Sudan. If the UN take serious action only then will the regime be under threat and the situation might change, but with Ban Ki-Moon and Gambari just visiting and talking about pressure nothing will happen. They only release some political prisoners who have come to the end of their sentences or petty criminals – not people like U Gambira.

JM When Cyclone Nargis hit in May 2008 we saw many people arrested for helping deliver aid. Without the help of monks and ordinary people probably many more would have died. Even though he was in jail did U Gambira have an involvement in getting aid to the Delta?

KM When the Nargis happened, during a prison visit U Gambira asked us to go and help the victims as much as we can. So we went to the area around Bogolaye and Mawkyun. We helped the victims with the recovery process, with healthcare and food supplies and built toilets. We went to the Delta twice and after the second time the SPDC came after us and then we had to flee the country.

LL The SPDC realised that the whole family were involved in activism and not just U Gambira. We were involved in Cyclone Nargis and then planning the anniversary of the Saffron Revolution and then at that point the SPDC realised that the whole family involved so they started targeting our whole family. The brothers were arrested for the anniversary and we knew we would be next so we had to flee.

JM Many international governments donated huge amounts of aid and money to the cyclone victims. Did you see any examples of SPDC interfering with aid being delivered?

KM Normally when you want to give aid you have to give SPDC a list of everything you have in your truck when you pass through the checkpoints, but we didn’t because we went by boat and bribed the boat owner so we weren’t seen, so our aid got to the people without being searched. When aid is delivered, the headman of the village (who is government) has to go and collect it. He then asks the village people for money if they want to receive aid – £1000 kyat each and they say this is to pay for the fuel to bring the aid to the village.

LL You can by many stuff in Mingalar market and Nyaung Binlay market especially you will see plenty of mosquito nets – not a few – thousands of nets which are sold by organizations not just individual people. Some of my friends including some reporters they give us this information as well. But the NGOs have to deal with the government.

KM SPDC also donated money to these victims and to monasteries but the SPDC collect this money from the general public not from their own money.

JM The SPDC, yet again, are interfering on every level and this is the same with other issues where there is intimidation and persecution on every level against anyone who opposes them.

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