Thailand Day 1: Breaking The Silence

On March 20th we touched down in Bangkok and only now, one month on from this trip starting, can the details start to surface.
Breaking The Silence from the Border and Burma…

We were in the queue at Heathrow at about 5am when I got a call from Rachel – “The report’s being launched on Tuesday… the photos are all over it”. The new report from Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) “The Role of Political Prisoners in the National Reconciliation Process” is being launched on Tuesday at the 10th Anniversary of AAPP in Mae Sot and the cover features all of the photos from this campaign to date. I knew they were going to use some on the cover and in the book but I didn’t realise it would be the whole front cover and back as well!! Final motivation to get us ready for the month ahead, not that any is really needed. Once again the most important person who keeps the ship sailing smoothly is on board – Miss J San @ The Secretary General. So with last minute revelations and itinerary changes including a cancelled cross-border trip (we wouldn’t have made it anyway so was thankfully no loss) we were finally off – I was actually due to leave 24 hours earlier – if only I had because then I could have met Nyi Nyi Aung at Bangkok airport and taken his photo… now that would have given the Generals something to think about. So we’re back in Bangkok but just for one night before heading to Mae Sot for several weeks of fairly intense work and most importantly to kick things off the 10th Anniversary of the AAPP. A bizarre concept greets us – thousands upon thousands of Red shirt protesters demonstrating peacefully for democracy – no sign of a policeman or soldier in sight – it’s almost a carnival atmosphere. How different it would be a few hundred miles away across the border in Burma if the same happened there, red shirts ‘n’ all. The only people we have booked to see in Bangkok are U Zin Linn and Ma Suu Mon Aye – both to re-take their photos as their original prisoners have now been released. Unfortunately only U Zin Linn is available today and we’ll catch up with Ma later, so we head over to his office and spend the whole afternoon catching up with him and his daughter Nai Nai who works for SEAPA. U Zin Linn was jailed twice for a total of 9 years. The former journalist and close friend and prison inmate of U Win Tin is currently Director of Media & Information for the NCGUB and also Vice President of the BMA.

U Zin Linn became an activist in the High School Union after the students’ massacre on 7th July 1962 taking on a role as an active member in the Rangoon Division Students’ Union. He Participated in a poster-and-pamphlet campaign on the 4th anniversary of 7 July movement and went into hiding to keep away from the military police. He was still able to carry out underground pamphlet campaigns against the Burmese Socialist Programme Party ( BSPP). However, in 1982, he fell into the hands of MI and served two years imprisonment in the notorious Insein prison. In 1988 he took part, together with his old students’ union members, in the People’s Democracy Uprising. In November of that year, he became an NLD Executive Committee Member for the Thingangyun Township and later became superintendent of the NLD Rangoon Division Office. In 1991, he was arrested because of his connections with the exiled government, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in the notorious Insein Prison. In December 1997 he was released. Zin Linn was an editor and columnist and contributed articles to various publications, especially on international affairs, while in Burma. He fled Burma in 2001 and currently lives and works in Bangkok.

We re-took his portrait in his office before heading out to spend the afternoon in a Burmese tea shop talking politics whilst being  surrounded by red shirted protesters… it was a very surreal way to start the trip.

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Some of the many things that the outside world didn’t know…

Veteran journalist, former political prisoner, vice-president of the Burma Media Association and Director of Media and Information for the NCGUB, U Zin Linn reveals just one element of the extent to which authorities in Burma monitor and harass the daily life of opposition members, activists, students and former political prisoners.

Click here to hear U Zin Linn discuss military surveillance in Burma

Below is the text to accompany the above audio excerpt from the interview.

ZL: The administration in each wardship, the PDC office, in every office on the wall there is a map of the ward, street by street, house by house and they will mark by colour, if there is an NLD member they will mark it red and if a student activist…and so on. Everyone is classified. Every house is on the map and at every tenth house is a Headman. The Headman is the informer. If there is an incident with a family they watch everything, where they go, who they talk to, who they visit, everything. And if someone from the family has health problem or is hospitalised then the Headman he has to inform to the authorities. If the NLD family member is in hospital, he informs the authorities then the authorities go to the hospital to discharge them?

JM: To discharge them? To not let them be in the hospital?

ZL: Yes. So there are many things that the outside world didn’t know.

This is U Zin Linn. He was detained in 1982 for 3 years in Insein prison and then again in 1990 for 8 years in Insein prison.

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