Burma’s Political Prisoners book: ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’ with foreword by Aung San Suu Kyi

After 3 long years of  hard work and over 100,000 miles travelled, finally the book of our long term project documenting Burma’s political prisoners will be published in November 2011 by River Books. Hopefully all political prisoners will also be released by then as well.

Featuring a foreword written by Aung San Suu Kyi and portraits of more than 250 former political prisoners in exile around the world (as well as over 50 from inside Burma, including leaders of the National League for Democracy), ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’ captures a moment in time in Burma’s history, dated October 2011, with more than 2,000 political prisoners incarcerated.



The Abhaya mudrā (“mudrā of fear-not”) represents protection, peace and the dispelling of fear.

In 1962 a military coup lead by General Ne Win saw Burma, an isolated Buddhist country in South-East Asia, come under the power of one of the world’s most brutal regimes. For the past five decades, thousands of people have been arrested, tortured and given long prison sentences for openly expressing their beliefs and for daring to defy dictators who tolerate no form of dissent or opposition to their rule.

Today, more than 2,000 political prisoners including monks, students, journalists, lawyers, elected Members of Parliament and over 300 members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, The National League for Democracy, are incarcerated in Burma’s notorious prisons.

In Burma and across the world, almost 300 hundred former political prisoners have come together to raise awareness of the tragic plight of their colleagues still detained in jail. Photographed standing with their right hand raised, palm out-turned facing the camera, the name of a current political prisoner is shown written on their hand. The sacred Buddhist gesture of Abhaya, “Fear Not”, is not only an act of silent protest, but also one of remembrance and fearlessness.

“The people featured in this book have all had to learn to face their fears squarely during the decades they have passed in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. Their commitment has been their courage. It is important that they and what they stand for should not be forgotten, that their sufferings as well as their aspirations should be remembered.”

“I hope that all who read this book will be encouraged to do everything they can to gain the freedom of political prisoners in Burma and to create a world where there are no political prisoners” Aung San Suu Kyi

View the project in its entirety at www.enigmaimages.net



Aung San Suu Kyi, U2 and You Too…

A beautiful video message from The Lady to U2 fans.. and you too. It’s great to see hard work and secret planning pay off with a brilliant result…

“We are not bystanders in our own history. Everyone of us writes a story that is told”

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Burma’s Defiance – U Tin Oo

Photographed for the ongoing long term project documenting Burma’s dissidents and defenders – BURMA’S DEFIANCE

U Tin Oo, Vice Chairman of the National League for Democracy

Vice-Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), U Tin Oo spent more than 13 years in prison and under house arrest. He was released from his latest sentence in February 2010 and continues to work tirelessly to achieve democracy and national reconciliation in Burma in spite of threats and oppression from the ruling military regime.

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No Change in Policy or Defiance as DVB’s Sithu Zeya is Sentenced

With the welcome news last week that 16 political prisoners have been released including 3 members of the ABFSU (Lwin Ko Latt, Han Win Aung & Kyaw Kyaw) comes the usual twist of fate for others less fortunate. Welcome news indeed, but it was no amnesty or relaxing in policy by the regime as yesterday it was confirmed that Sithu Zeya has been sentenced to 8 years in prison under Burma’s draconian laws – 3 years under section 13/20 The Immigration Act and 5 years under section 17/1 The Unlawful Association Act. It is likely this will be increased as we await further news over charges under the infamous Electronic Act that could add a further 20 years to his already unjust sentence.

Along with his father Maung Maung Zeya, he was arrested for the crime of photographing the aftermath of the bombing scene at Kandawgyi Lake in Rangoon during the Thingyan festival in April earlier this year. But it was whilst under interrogation by military intelligence that brutal torture he endured lead to his confession that he was a journalist for Democratic Voice of Burma and so was his father. This was his real crime, being one of the brave undercover journalists who risk everything to expose the reality of the SPDC’s crimes. The young 21 year old man now faces a life of continued torture in Burma’s dark prisons along with 17 other DVB journalists. Deputy Director of DVB, Khin Maung Win, confirmed that authorities had offered to free Maung Maung Zeya if he divulged the names of other undercover DVB reporters – the regime have made targeting the undercover VJs of DVB and other exiled media organisations a number one priority. But it is a policy doomed to failure and is as futile as that which the world continues to adopt in ‘waiting and seeing’ as an ever patient nation grows tired of it’s meglomaniac rulers and more people than ever before are willing to take the risks to expose the regime by becoming VJs themselves and joining the ranks of the many hundreds already at work undercover throughout Burma. In a small part of the world far from the darkness of Insein a candle will be lit tonight to honour Sithu Zeya and all 22 journalists jailed in Burma.

Defiance comes in all shapes and sizes and without the likes of Sithu and Maung Maung Zeya willing to take the risks involved the outside world would have even less knowledge of life behind this iron curtain. Whilst the numbers of political prisoners rise and fall in equal measures there will be no let up in the undercover journalists’ and activists’ quest to tell the truth no matter what the consequences. As Han Win Aung said on his release last Friday, “It doesn’t matter for how long they’ve detained us … how brutal they were, we will never be broken in spirit. Our beliefs are unshakeable. We will flourish under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership for the sake of democracy and political freedom.”

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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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“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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U Win Tin’s Personal Message

Along with the letter that I received and that was published front page in The Independent newspaper, U Win Tin has issued a brief personal video message about this campaign as he comes face to face with himself on the front cover of Amnesty International magazine (May/June issue).

The video message is personal and so remains private, but for now here is a brief clip plus a still taken from the video:

You can also view a message U Win Tin issued for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on her birthday here on the Foreign Office Facebook page.

U Win Tin – ‘Face to Face with my Hero’

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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.

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Caught on Camera: Burma’s Political Prisoners

Continuing the ongoing partnership with The Independent newspaper, a brief article and full gallery of images is posted on The Independent website ahead of the private view of the exhibition being held on Monday 21st June 2010 at Amnesty International UK headquarters in London. In total there are 21 portraits of former political prisoners that make up the exhibition at Amnesty International  – one for every year since Aung San Suu Kyi was first placed under house arrest.

You can read the article and view the exhibition images here: The Independent

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Burma Day 5: A New Year But With Nothing New

(As stated before, information posted about inside Burma is strictly limited for obvious security reasons)

The fifth and final day of this trip inside – it’s been cut short due to a change in plan after the second day. Today is the first day of Thingyan and whilst the real festivities don’t start until tomorrow you can already sense a very small wave of euphoria in the air… but with it a very big increase in police and miltary presence on the ground. Stepping out of the hotel yesterday to be confronted by armed police was an unwelcome surprise. It’s the only time of the year when all flights out of Burma are full and I’ve been on standby since Saturday. Finally today I have a flight out this evening. Off course I really don’t want to leave this beautiful country and the people I care so much about, but I have to. Every time I come back here I wonder if things are getting worse. But then can things really get any worse for these people? In the few days I’ve been here I’ve seen the same old shocking sights of poverty, corruption and intimidation. Of course I’ve been followed and watched by intelligence and their stooges – sometimes its so obvious that you feel like just wandering right up to them and taking their portrait from about 3 yards away! Even when you’re not followed, someone somewhere is always watching you or is scared of you being there next to them. It’s indicative of this climate of fear that prevails throughout Burmese society. Fear of retribution from this, the most brutal of ruling regimes. But then there are the times when you can just grab a few silent moments away from prying eyes and perhaps share them with The Lady, sitting silently across the lake.

Aside from the work that I managed to do here there were a couple of other moments that were highly entertaining and when the authorities could have had a field day. First off, an unbelievable incident at Shwedagon Pagoda where I bumped into a member of an ‘outlawed organisation’ whom I knew. It could have been the moment when the SPDC got two for the price of one! The second memorable incident was just hours before leaving and looking back now I can laugh, but at the time I’ll admit that for a split second I thought my time was up. I was in Kandawgyi Park killing time before heading to the airport to leave. There was a very heavy police presence – armed riot police everywhere throughout the park and on the road watching all the stages being built for the water festival due to start tomorrow. I paid my two dollars to enter the park and walked along the timber walkway by the waters edge past the 5 armed riot police sitting in the shade at the entrance. As I walked on I noticed in the distance a large group of people coming the other way – it was unusual because you have to pay to go on this walkway and it was blisteringly hot so why would so many people be out in this sun? I stopped to try to see what was going on and I realised it was a large group of police, military and plain clothes intelligence and they were walking towards me. I turned around and the police I had just walked past at the entrance were now all standing blocking the entrance to the park. My only reason of concern was that in my camera bag was all the photos and video that we had done in the past few days. Work that if found here and now would mean very serious trouble. I couldn’t go anywhere so I had to resort to just playing the dumb tourist card (not for the first time – ed) If they know who you are its too late to worry anyway. The group walked towards me and as they got nearer I made out that there was clearly someone of very high military rank amongst them – 5 or so senior military personnel, one with more medals stitched on his shirt than are surely possible to win. There were armed riot police, armed soldiers, 10 or so plain clothes military intelligence, radios crackling away, men in dark glasses… I tried not to smile as they all just walked on by past me, oblivious to what was hidden in my bag, oblivious of what I was up to. Dumb tourist… thanks for visiting our beautiful country and giving us your dollars. UPDATE AFTER THE EVENT – this was the exact location where the bomb went off 3 days later killing 9 people and injuring dozens more. Coincidence?? You decide…

Coming within touching distance of one of the Generals (or someone of similar high rank) was certainly not part of the itinerary when we planned this trip, but as always with Burma – expect the unexpected! As soon as they were gone in the distance I walked to a quiet area of the park out of sight and earshot and rang in to share the moment as I could barely contain myself with laughter. Checking in is all part of the procedure at times and this was an unexpected check in to have to discuss! It’s so bizarre because I had an almost identical incident when I was leaving last year. Let’s hope we’re not tempting fate and that it’s not a case of 3 strikes and your out when I come back next time. I make it to the airport without any other dramas or excitement, on the way passing by Khin Nyunt’s house where he is currently under house arrest, a casual glance in wondering if perhaps he’ll be available for a portrait next time I’m here! Safe flight back to Bangkok and mission accomplished… for now anyway.

Over the last two days I’ve captured a few images whilst wandering around killing time and you can view them here at the enigmaimages website.

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