British Foreign Minister Stands With Burma’s Political Prisoners

Today an exclusive coup as British Foreign Minister Jeremy Browne joined the campaign to free Burma’s political prisoners. Standing with Amnesty UK Director, Kate Allen, he wrote the name of Mie Mie on his hand and stood to show his solidarity with the former political prisoners who are leading this campaign. Mie Mie @ Thin Thin Aye, a member of the 88 Generation Students, is currently detained in Katha prison serving a 65 years sentence. Kate Allen had the name of 88 Generation Student Htay Kywe written on her hand. He is also currently serving a 65 year sentence in Buthidaung prison.

Click on the Foreign Office website to read more.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

A Letter from Aung San Suu Kyi’s Right Hand Man

Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi (…and U Win Tin and Me!) make the front page today as a letter from U Win Tin has been published in the Independent newspaper in the UK in a three page article including the front page where the letter is printed. You can read the article online here at The Independent website.

It’s also my first ever front page of a national newspaper – not just picture, but the whole front page and to have it for this reason is overwhelming as it comes from my absolute hero Saya U Win Tin. Naturally I can’t divulge any information about the receipt of this letter other than it was secretly smuggled out of Burma to me under great risk, but it is an extraordinary impassioned plea by U Win Tin on behalf of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and  the people of Burma that puts all “statements of concern” ever made by world leaders and the UN to shame.

Now is the time for them to truely stand up and be counted. Tomorrow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be 65 and enough is enough. Ban Ki Moon’s personal mission and the same statements issued by leaders across the globe must now become set in stone by the UNSC as an action that HAS to be fulfilled by the regime in Burma – The immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners – a fundamental aspect for any form of democratic change in Burma.

Above is the part of the letter printed in today’s Independent newspaper. The rest of the letter will remain private.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Two Major Photojournalism Awards at ‘Prix de la Photographie Paris 2010’

In what could well prove to be the the start of one of the most important periods in time for this work for Burma’s political prisoners I was woken to the sound of a text message from the other side of the world… “Another double for Burma”. I had a feeling what it was about and so rushed online to check in for the results. To my absolute astonishment and overwhelming joy and pride for all those involved in both pieces of work, I saw that I had won both 1st and 2nd prize in the Prix de la Photographie Paris 2010 Political Photojournalism – this project took the second place whilst it was my other work for the Mae Tao clinic that took top honours (you can see it here). Shocked. Stoked. Speechless.

For full details you can download the full press release here: PX3 2010 Press Release

This new award like those before it are not for me or for my ability in having taken any of these photographs. That’s the easiest thing to do when you have an emotional connection to something. All these awards and recognition belong to the people who have taken part in this project – the 167 former political prisoners and the 2,157 currently in jail and the many hundreds I am yet to meet. In particular I’d like to dedicate this award to the former political prisoners living a stateless life on the Thai-Burma border. In a world where true courage is so rarely rewarded, these people bear dignity, and show strength like no other in the face of an unknown future having just escaped a very forgettable past. Exactly the same goes for the award for the Mae Tao clinic and the hundreds of people it cares for each day. Human dignity and the suffering it has been forced to endure at the hands of the brutal military regime knows no bounds.

It was the most amazing start to the week and I’m hoping it’s the next launchpad for this work and my involvement in Burma. Last year this project got its first major chance of exposure when it won runner-up prize in the Amateur category of Political Photojournalism but this year to win both 1st and 2nd place in the professional photographers category is my biggest achievement to date. First contact of the day is of course with those who have made both projects happen and very special thanks to those people – at the Mae Tao clinic it’s to my good friend Eh Thwa and of course Dr Cynthia and the thanks for this work for Burma’s political prisoners of course goes to AAPP, DVB and every single one of the 167 former PPs that I’ve photographed all over the world, the 2,157 currently detained and also to the many hundreds I am yet to meet on this fabulous journey. Without them there is nothing and with them there is everything.

Though imprisoned they are everywhere with us.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

EXCLUSIVE: Zarganar – A New Poem from Inside Hell

Below is an EXCLUSIVE new poem from Zarganar who is currently detained in Myitkyina prison in Kachin state. The poem was received by his good friend Htein Lin (and former political prisoner) who drew the accompanying illustration and asked me to publish them for you all to enjoy… so here they are:

by Zarganar, Myitkyina Jail, 2010

It’s lucky my forehead is flat

Since my arm must often rest there.

Beneath it shines a light I must invite

From a moon I cannot see

In Myitkyina.

Zarganar @ Thura was first jailed in 1988 and spent 1 year in Insein prison for his role in the mass demonstrations. He was jailed once more in 1990 and this time was sentenced to 4 years in prison. But it was in 2008 that the SPDC dealt the most severe of sentences on him due to his humanitarian efforts in helping those whose lives where devastated in Cyclone Nargis whilst all the Generals could do was stand and watch. On 21st November 2008 Zarganar is sentenced by the Court to 45 years imprisonment for violations of the Electronics Act. On 29th November 2008 he receives an additional 14 years under four sections of the criminal code—17/2, 32 (b), 295 (a) and 505 (b), bringing the total sentence to 59 years. However, on 16th February 2009 following appeals, Yangon Divisional Court reduces the prison sentence by “up to 24 years”, bringing the sentence down to 35 years. He is currently detained in Myitkyina prison in Kachin State.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and HTEIN LIN and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

BBC World Service ‘Outlook’ with Aunty

Early in May the BBC World Service contacted me about appearing on their radio programme “Outlook” to be interviewed by Matthew Banister about the project and campaign. It was a great opportunity to raise awareness for political prisoners and rather than have me tell the stories and issues I suggested that Daw Nita Yin Yin May accompany me as hearing from a former political prisoner first hand would be far more compelling. Thankfully the BBC thought it was a great idea and you can listen to the short interview below where Daw Nita talks about her experiences as a political prisoner in Burma.

Click HERE to listen to the interview

Many thanks to Aunty Nita for agreeing to accompany me to the interview and to the BBC World Service for the airtime to help raise awareness for Burma’s 2,199 currently detained.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 20: Bangkok Dangerous… and no Batteries!

Back in Bangkok and an early start making my way from Mo Chit to the airport to drop off my bags whilst I spend the last day running the rule over the red shirts. The day I arrived some 6 weeks ago was the first day of their demonstrations against the Thai Government and now as I am about to leave it seems we are merely moments away from civil war. Make no mistake when it comes (and it will come) it will be bloodier than what we have seen already. The red shirt encampment is now more tense than before – not surprising seeing people have died on both sides – but the walls of tyres and bamboo spears prove a menacing sight especially in this area more famous for farangs, fake DVDs and sex shows. There is a heavy military and police presence and there is a very different atmosphere now – eery and often tense at times.

Click HERE to view more photos from the red shirt demonstrations

All of the shopping centres are closed… still… it’s been over a month now and they must have lost millions. No last minute presents for everyone back home then! But there’s only so many times you can wander around MBK (which is the only place open) – I don’t think even a nuclear bomb would close it down. It epitomises the commercial side to Thailand. I head over to Ari to Wawee coffee where I know I can get internet access, good coffee and a break from the rain showers before meeting up with Thar Nyunt Oo – my final portrait to take before heading to the UK for a few months. Killing time once again, the only other thing I have to do today is an interview with Amnesty International UK for their magazine. They want to put U Win Tin on the cover and do a feature article about when I met him as a lead in to launching their involvement with me and political prisoner issues. Another front cover and now I feel the hard work is paying off for us all – this is a big one on Amnesty’s magazine as almost half a million people will see this magazine.

I meet up with Thar Nyunt Oo slightly later than planned, but not surprising considering the current situation here. He works for Voice of America (VOA) Burmese section and actually lives in Washington DC but is here in Bangkok for 3 months so its a lucky meeting for me. The light is fading fast and my time is also running short as unfortunately I have a plane to catch this evening so we head to the nearest place to sit down and have a chat before taking a portrait. He has just been informed by his office that its too dangerous to work anymore as the situation is so volatile – days after handing out helmets and bulletproof vests to everyone. He was arrested in 1990 as a leader of the ABFSU and was sentenced to 5 years in prison – spending it in Insein, Pyay, Thayet and Monywa before being released in 1995. In Thayet prison he shared a cell with Tate Naing (Secretary of the AAPP). Upon his release he resumed his political activities but was forced to flee in December 1996 when the authorities tried to arrest him for his involvement in the student demonstrations. We headed back out on to the overhead walkway that runs over sections of Sukhumvit and prepared for the portrait… soldiers in the background this was looking good… until I pressed the shutter and nothing happened. Battery dead and the spare one too – both totally drained due to the heat and a forgetful memory as I had been shooting all day yesterday too back in Mae Sot. There was nothing else to do but go for a beer and charge a battery enough to get the shot. Luckily I not only had my charger but also we found a Japanese restaurant right next to us that had a socket under our table… it was as though it was a sign that it was meant to happen! We carried on chatting over a few beers and it was great to hear more about his experiences but with the clock ticking away and the light almost gone we had to take the shot  and I had to catch that plane! Luckily we just about managed and I jumped on the Skytrain to ‘On Nut’ before catching a taxi the final tense miles to the airport and just made it in time before the desk closed. What is it with just making connections in time? It’s happening everywhere we go and can only be a sign that we are meant to keep moving forward on this incredible journey. And that’s exactly what we will do… after a few months rest mixed with lots of editing both photographs and video before planning the next stages. Where next? who knows… but for now it’s thank you Thailand. You have delivered.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 12: At Last The Moment of Truth

The build up to today really started last Thursday during Thingyan. As we were all out partying away in the Reggae bar my phone started beeping – incoming texts from Andy Buncombe in India… “Is it ok now to say you’ve just been to Burma? Looks like it is on the cover. Will know tonight”. One hour later and it was confirmed… “Am told Win Tin is going on the front! They are using 18 of the portraits! Full Colour too!”.

Today was the day that the world would finally get to see the one portrait we have had to keep under wraps for 9 long months – but now it’s the real birth of this campaign. I met U Win Tin in Rangoon during summer 2009 at the time of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial – you can check back to the date on this blog by clicking here to read about it. To say it was a highlight is an understatement. He is an icon. My Hero. Meeting him was one of the greatest moments of my life. Naturally I can’t go into all the details of how, where and why, but to some it may be apparent anyway when you look at the photographs here. We spent about an hour chatting before I took his portrait – it was truely mesmerising, he really is a remarkable man. They say there are moments in life that change your way of thinking. This is a moment that simply changed my life. There were so many moments that linger long in my memory – but perhaps the funniest was when after an hour of talking suddenly someone appeared outside the large glass windows in front of where we were sitting, pretending to clean them but with eyes fixed firmly on me and U Win Tin. The thing that made me laugh was that we were 20 floors up and it was pouring with rain. Military Intelligence will stop at nothing!

The interview that I did with him was published in the Irrawaddy in August last year under one of my pseudonyms Tom Parry (one of many like James Mackay !) – you can read it here. At the time that we met it was a very different situation as Aung San Suu Kyi was about to sentenced and U Win Tin’s own personal safety was under threat of imminent re-arrest due to his continued outspokenness over the treatment of Daw Suu and the current situation. We were going to publish the photo on the morning of the verdict in Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial – it would have been front page in The Independent but also would definitely have seen U Win Tin returned straight to jail, most likely under the archaic Electronic Act. We had to pull the plug at the last moment and it was the right decision despite the risks we had taken to get the shot. I was sure the time would come again when it could be used in its own right and not off the back of another event in Burma and sure enough here it is. A feature article about Burma’s political prisoners lead by their most famous Uncle, Saya U Win Tin.

I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Andy Buncombe for his continued belief in this campaign and me – he was as determined as me that one day we would get the story out – but I could never have expected it to have been in this fashion and to have front cover and 5 full pages inside with 18 portraits is more than I could dream of – but it’s only any good if it does any good. We need to keep the issue of political prisoners firmly in the spotlight. Nothing less will do.

I spoke with U Win Tin this morning to share the wonderful feeling at seeing his image staring out proudly at the world with the name of Burma’s true leader marked clearly on his hand. He was delighted and excited that finally our moment from last year can be shared with the world. You won’t be buying this edition of The Independent anywhere in Burma, but be sure that he has his own copy. (We had spoken several times in the past few weeks to confirm he was 100% happy to go ahead with publishing the image despite the risks he may face and he was adamant it must be published. Above all else U Win Tin’s safety was considered more than anything – for me it was and still is the most important thing, but he was crystal clear in wanting this image to be shown to the world).

And under those orders, here it is. The image that will now go on to lead this campaign for Burma’s Political Prisoners in the build up to the elections later this year. You can expect some more very exciting big news soon..

Image Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: U Win Tin – The Voice They Cannot Silence

UK newspaper “The Independent” publishes an in-depth feature article about Burma’s Political Prisoners in the colour supplement magazine on Saturday 24th April 2010 featuring 18 images from this campaign including an EXCLUSIVE portrait of U Win Tin.

For full details of the article visit The Independent website on Saturday 24th April.

“Well you see my opinion about this government is you see, that when you have to face with a military government, you need a little bit of courage, some sort of confronting you see. Because if you are always timid and afraid and intimidated they will stamp on you. Sometimes you have to make yourself a bit courageous, outspoken and so on.

That is why when people tell me I should keep a low profile because people are very anxious about my security. You can be snatched back to prison at any time, but you can’t help it.

You can’t help you see. Of course you don’t like to go back of course, but you see you can’t help, that depends on them, their idea and their intention.

Image and Text Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 9: Generation Wave

In a safe house in Mae Sot, we sit chatting and laughing about an extraordinary incident that happened in Burma just last week. I was there on a flying visit, working undercover on this campaign but not even in my wildest dreams could I have expected it to happen. Playing tourist for the moment, but still very clearly being watched, I stood away from most prying eyes in a far corner of the concourse that surrounds Shwedagon Pagoda going through the motions of taking photographs of the beauty around me. I turned around and was immediately frozen to the spot. There sitting right in front of me was Kyaw Oo, a member of Generation Wave who I had been with in Mae Sot just days before arriving in Burma. A casual glance to each other but no more, as this was most certainly not the time or place to continue where we had left off just days earlier! I think winning the lottery would have been more likely than this – even writing about it now I still can’t quite believe it happened… but i believe it was a good omen because my trip was successful and so to was his and here we are both now sitting in the evening heat of Mae Sot laughing about it.

In the aftermath of the Saffron Revolution a new youthful student force was born. Five former high school friends galvanised by the demonstrations that they took part in and the events on the streets of Rangoon that shocked the world started their own underground organisation. Generation Wave was founded on 9th October 2007 by Zay Yar Thaw, Aung Zay Phyo, Nyein Nwae, Moe Thway and Min Yan Naing all of whom were actively involved in the students demonstrations in 1996 and 1998. Over the last two years they have carried out a number of high profile campaigns inside Burma – including pamphleting, grafitti, daring protests outside Insein prison and distributing CDs of their music in tea shops. But at some price. There are currently 21 members of the group in jail in Burma including Zayar Thaw, Arkar Bo, Aung Zay Phyo and Thiha Win Tin. Two thirds of their members are behind bars for promoting democracy in their country. It’s made even worse when you consider their age.

For the full picture on Generation Wave please read this in-depth interview with them here in this great article by my friend Joseph Allchin from DVB.

There are currently only a handful of GW members living in exile here in Mae Sot (obviously names and details can’t be divulged for security reasons), including one, let’s call her ‘Nyi Ma’, a very old friend of Jackie’s when she was living in Rangoon. They had not seen each other for more than 10 years and we all met in complete surprise for the first time since then during the AAPP tenth anniversary last month. With that first coincidental meeting with a member of GW I suppose I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I bumped in to Kyaw Oo in Rangoon! So other than just enjoying spending time with friends at Generation Wave HQ, I’m also here to take the portrait of the only member of GW who is a former political prisoner.

Kyaw Oo has been jailed twice for his political activities – in 1989 for 4 years and again in 2008 for 1 year – both times in Insein prison. He was released in the General Amnesty on September 19th 2009 and now lives in exile here in Thailand. You can see the portrait we took here on the main website. I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Generation Wave over the past few weeks (often just having a break from what I’m doing and hanging out with my little sister and co has provided me with the space to find new ideas and inspirations). And it has proved so very inspiring to spend time with them. In fact I’ve got some ideas for some portraits for them all so we’ll have some fun next week for sure. Despite being too old to be a member I have been given the great honour of having my own numbered mug (the only non-member with an official place in the dishrack!) – so if you’re ever at their house and you see number 10 left lieing around half filled with unfinished coffee you’ll know it’s me! The Student movement has long played the decisive role in shaping the fight against the military regime and like so many that came before them, they are the new generation of students, still fighting for their country, but a long long way from home.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 7: Mae Sot – On Becoming an IDP

I am officially a refugee. Or maybe more of an IDP. I was supposed to be leaving Thailand in 3 days… not anymore. Late last week a volcano erupted again in Iceland sending plumes of volcanic ash into the sky and bringing a halt to all flights in Europe. It first erupted on March 21st having been dormant for more than 200 years but now it had got angry and has brought Europe to a grinding halt which means I’m not going anywhere fast. After spending 3 hours trying to get through to Emirates office in Bangkok I finally managed to re-schedule my flight – for Monday 2nd March!! A 10 day extension to this trip is obviously very welcome as there is plenty to do but it throws a few spanners in the works (quite literally with work in the UK). But its settled for me and now I can carry on with all the blog writing I’ve been busy doing last week and also with the editing of thousands of photographs. So what was going to be a frantic last few days here in Mae Sot has now turned in to a much more enjoyable timescale allowing me to hot-desk from my work places at AAPP to DVB to GW and back again as much of the background work can be completed at a more relaxed and obviously enjoyable pace. With any luck we’ll get the chance to take a few more portraits as well!

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved