Success Shared with The Irrawaddy

Firstly I must say a very BIG thank-you to everyone for their messages of congratulations. They are very heartfelt and I am so very grateful for all of your support. It’s a huge honour to receive recognition but it all really belongs to the people who the work is about. Following on from yesterday’s award success there were two more articles written today… keep the awareness levels rising is all I can say. So a BIG thanks to ‘The Irrawaddy’ who ran a really great article (cheers Colin) you can read the article here or click the image below for a pdf.

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Thailand Day 4 (part 1): Ten Years Strong

Ten years ago today, on 23rd March 2000, former political prisoners from Burma living in exile in Thailand formed the human rights organisation the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), more commonly known as the AAPP. The date of 23rd March has relevance as it is the anniversary of the arrest of student leader Min Ko Naing in 1988. For the past ten years, AAPP has cast light on the dark situation that is the hell of Burma’s prisons and the political prisoners that have suffered within them. It has played a vital role in reporting to International governments and the UN on the situation of political prisoners in Burma and has campaigned vigorously and untiringly to both raise awareness and bring about change. It provides a voice and support for the 2,186 political prisoners currently incarcerated in Burma’s jails and also assistance to their families and those who have been forced to flee into exile.

The day starts in a rush and thankfully we grab a lift from Dr Naing Aung from the AAPP office to the Rujira Hotel on the outskirts of Mae Sot – where the celebrations are being held. More than 150 people had gathered to this special occasion – former political prisoners, activists, exiled NLD Members of Parliament – the room was awash with important people who had come to acknowledge not just the work and tenth anniversary of AAPP but more importantly the fact that 2,186 people were still in jail and the fact that a significant number of those people should be playing important roles in the forthcoming elections. Former political prisoners dressed in their blue prison uniforms carried a banner that re-iterated this message “There can be no national reconciliation in Burma as long as there are political prisoners”. There is really no other way to put it.

It was a strange experience to know so many people in the room – to have been privileged to have shared the lives of so many of them for this project; an honour to be a part of this family. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Anniversary t-shirts in the prisoner colour blue were handed out to all and the MCs Moe Myat Thu and Ma Suu Mon Aye got things underway. The former political prisoners performed to the packed hall and a number of prominent activists and former political prisoners spoke to the audience. It was a great day and I spent most of the event wandering around chatting to people and taking the odd photograph – you can see the photos here. Also with so many former political prisoners gathered in one place it was also a great opportunity to start planning who to photograph and a real coup as Daw San San, NLD MP, Vice President of the MPPU and former political prisoner agreed to have her portrait taken later in the week. In fact our initial estimates of 5 or so new faces to photograph in Mae Sot were way off target. We also caught up with Ma Thida who was over from DVB in Oslo – so many friends everywhere but a big surprise for Jackie who met a very special old friend (now in Generation Wave) whom she hadn’t seen for ten years since having to leave Burma in 2000. It was a wonderful moment to enjoy a re-union and such a small world to be re-united here in Mae Sot both fighting as activists for their country.

To mark the 10th anniversary the AAPP were launching their new report “The Role of Political Prisoners in the National Reconciliation Process”. The report calls on the international community to press the military junta to unconditionally release all political prisoners, review the 2008 Constitution, and begin a tripartite dialogue. But the report also calls for the criminal records of all political prisoners to be erased. The 2010 election and party registration laws prohibit current prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Khun Tun Oo from standing for election or belonging to a political part – and this is a key point if there is to be any sense of real democratic change and progress for Burma. You can condemn the constitution, repression and general disastrous human rights situation throughout Burma all you like but the basic fact that the very people who were not only originally elected to run the country but who are also who the people of Burma would still want to play a role now in shaping its future are still in jail. Their unconditional release and involvement in the political process is fundamental if there is ever to be meaningful change in Burma.

The new report was launched at a press conference and the whole event was filmed by Democratic Voice of Burma DVB and you can read all about the days events here in a report from The Irrawaddy. The celebrations continued throughout the day culminating in an evening event held at the office of AAPP for former political prisoners and a selection of specially invited guests – time to really celebrate and for me an incredible moment as a slideshow of the 115 photographs of this project was played on a big screen to everyone – amazing feeling to see all these former political prisoners watching their colleagues from all over the world – it made all the hard work really seem worthwhile to have it shown and acknowledged in such company. Everyone partied long in to the night – a well deserved day of celebration but also acknowledgement of the role of political prisoners in Burma’s past, present and future.

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Don’t be Fooled by Freedom

“I am not happy with my freedom. I am very sorry about my colleagues who are still serving time in prisons”. U Tin Oo, Vice-Chairman of the NLD.

On Saturday 13th February Vice-Chairman of the NLD U Tin Oo was released from house arrest having been held without trial for the past 7 years. Naturally his release is to be celebrated and having met and interviewed his son last week in Japan for The Irrawaddy I raise a bigger glass than before to his freedom. But as he says in his own words, he is not happy with his freedom. There are almost 2,200 political prisoners in Burma’s notorious prisons. The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) no longer inspect prison conditions where torture is state policy. Today Tomas Quintana, the UN special envoy to Burma has arrived in Rangoon for a five-day visit to assess the country’s progress on human rights. If a 100% increase in political prisoners in the time that U Tin Oo has been under house arrest is the progress that the UN are looking for then they have achieved that. You can be sure that the Junta’s roadmap to a disciplined democracy will be laid out for Mr Quintana with the headlines that they are serious about dialogue with the opposition and so have released the Vice-Chairman of the NLD. They may allow Mr Quintana to view a freshly painted ward in Insein prison where clean blankets have been distributed moments before his arrival only to be taken away as he leaves. The usual tricks and smokescreens will be played as always before. There is more chance of it snowing in Rangoon than there is of Mr Quintana being allowed to view the so-called SPDC progress on human rights in Eastern Burma and other ethnic areas where just last week 2,000 more Karen villagers were forced to flee their villages under attack from the Burmese army. If the UN are serious, then this time they will not leave until they have something worthwhile to bring back. We do not need your condemnation Mr Quintana. We need action.

This is Tun Lin Kyaw. He was detained for 3 years in Insein prison.

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Coco Island: From Political Prisoner’s hell to Tourist heaven

Once the hellish jail that was home to hundreds of political prisoners, Coco Island has now become a tourist destination. To learn more about Coco Island read the article online at The Irrawaddy.

This is U Mya Sein. He was sent to Coco Island in 1969 and spent two years detained there with hundreds of other political prisoners. In total U Mya Sein spent 13 years in prison for his political activities at Insein Prison and Coco Island.

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PRESS: The Irrawaddy

The September edition of the Irrawaddy Magazine features a double page spread on the project – fantastic news and great promotion, massive thanks to Colin, Aung Zaw, Wai Moe, Kyaw Zwa and everyone else at the Irrawaddy. Free ALL of Burma’s political prisoners NOW.

irrawaddy article

irrawaddy

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Thailand Day 20: Chiang Mai

Time for the PR machine to move into overdrive as its meetings today with the exiled media organisations The Irrawaddy magazine and Democratic Voice of Burma. Khin Maung Soe and Than Win Htut from DVBAlso there’s the opportunity to photograph 3 more former political prisoners – Wai Moe and Kyaw Zwa at The Irrawaddy and Khin Maung Soe at Democratic Voice of Burma. Hugely successful meetings and some major promotional work both print and broadcast is in the pipeline from both organisations… keep posted as all will be revealed very soon.

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