Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Unknown Story of the Twenty Four

The Unknown Story of the Twenty Four

Freedom of Press Movement in Insein Prison 1992-1996
By Zin Linn

Education is the most powerful guardian of a civilization. It is the sole vehicle by which priceless treasures of former generations are carried to the present. It is the mighty force that propels the knowledge of human beings into the IT age and beyond.

All leading cells of society know this very well. Therefore many far-sighted nations have decided to invest heavily in education to protect their bright futures. But some foolish regimes intentionally crack down on educational institutions. They also suppress the students and people who thirst for knowledge.

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (S.L.O.R.C) or State Peace and Development Council (S.P.D.C) of Burmar is a regime of this kind. Under the regime most of the colleges and universities have been sent to the outskirts of cities. The thoughtless junta even recognizes students and people as their enemies or destructive elements.

They inherited this concept from their godfather, the notorious Gen. Ne Win, who declared war on students after the July 7 massacre in 1962. From that day on, students have been under severe suppression and, in some cases, have not been allowed to further their studies.

The junta has systematically ruined the education system, blocking every progressive book and periodical from appearing in Burma. They pay particular attention to any material published in the West. That is why a series of student uprisings have broken out from time to time in Burma. That is also why prisons in Burma are crowded with prisoners of conscience.

Under British colonial rule, prisoners were allowed to read and write while in custody. However, the Myanmar military dictators strictly prohibit this practice in their prisons. They don't even allow a scrap of packing-paper to exist within the cell confines. If a piece of paper is found in the hand of a prisoner he is made to wear iron-shackles and is put into solitary confinement for 3 months.

But we, the political prisoners of Insein Prison, were just like people who lost their way in the desert and were thirsting for water. We thirsted for knowledge, as well as outside news, in that desert-like prison. At last, we made up our minds to take the risk of quenching our thirst.

It was in the middle of December 1992. We, the political prisoners of Insein Jail, had heard that a so-called 'National Convention' was going to be held in January of the following year. Some of the prisoners of conscience welcomed the National Convention but many strongly opposed it. So we all decided to run the risk of getting more detailed information on this conference.

Everybody agreed we should persuade the wardens to accommodate our needs. In short, at the start of the National Convention ( 9th January 1993), we received the Mirror Daily Newspaper with the help of a warden. At that time, there were over 1000 political prisoners in the notorious Insein Jail and over 500 of them were prisoners of conscience.

There are six cellblocks in the cell compound of the prison. No.1 cellblock consists of 14 cells or rooms. No.2 consists of 60 cells. No.3 has 14 cells. No.4 (long) has 18 cells and 4 (short) has 12 cells. No.5 is made up of 22 cells and No. 6 has 10 cells. So, there are 150 cells altogether. Each cell measures 8.5' x 11.5'.

There is also a special cell-compound and a dog-cell compound. Each comprises 10 cells. Special cellblock is very special. Every cell is 12' x12' in area and contains a bathroom with a toilet. However, each cell has two iron-doors covered with iron-grilles.

There are also some cottages for VIPs, such as ex-generals and ministers. The special cell-compound also houses the main interrogation bureau of the Military Intelligence service (MI). There, prisoners of conscience are brutally tortured by MI personnel. Most of the political prisoners suffer inhumane treatment and persecution within this special cell-compound.

We initiated discussions so that everyone, as well as every party, could assist each other in getting organized for the future struggle. We believed that unity alone would safeguard and secure our aim for the restoration of democracy. That is why we knew that we shouldn't fail to keep up to date on outside political developments.

For this reason, members from NLD, DPNS, ABSDF, ABFSU, KNU, CPB and individual politicians exchanged opinions and agreed to cooperate for the common cause. The result appeared as a Joint-Action Committee (JAC).

Under the JAC there were 5 sub-committees:

The Committee to Protect Political Prisoners' Rights (CPPPR)
The Committee for Convening Political Ceremonies (CCPC)
The Media & Information Committee (MIC)
The Hand-written Periodicals Producing Committee (HPPC)
The Medical Assistance Committee (MAC).
The MIC cooperated with the HPPC in delivering periodicals throughout the cell-compound. The two committees smuggled journals, magazines, papers and writing materials into the prison. Eventually, the MIC also succeeded in getting two 8-band pocket size radios. The two committees then cooperated in collecting news from the radio and managed to produce a weekly news bulletin. In this way we got updates from Time & Newsweek as well as Burmese newspapers and periodicals. Then we could exchange our political outlooks through hand-written magazines, such as The Tidal Wave, The New Blood Wave and other annual issues. Moreover the MIC and HPPC took on the task of submitting a report on human rights abuses in prisons to the UN. So, they collected radio-news and recorded firsthand accounts of other prisoners, as well as from the wardens.

Every weekend, the jail authorities assigned the prisoners who were not given a sentence by a law-court to forced labor in prison. Some of them were sent to our cell-compound to do cleaning works. As the JAC had directed us, we tried to gather fresh outside news from these prisoners. Sometimes we came across NLD members. Then we persuaded the warden in charge of our cell-compound to give us an opportunity to chat with these people. In this way we often received important, up-to-date news on the political situation.

Thus, all of us were able to participate in a concerted effort to raise the democracy movement inside Burma-despite being behind the walls of Insein Prison. This was achieved, in the most part, by the MIC & HPPC and their success in overcoming the news and information blackout in the notorious Insein Jail. If we didn't overcome this blackout, most of the political prisoners might have become depressed and lost sight of their political destination. So, the journalistic activity of the MIC & HPPC was an essential service for our comrades and the democratic cause.

Each sub-committee had done well in its respective sector. We were now able to put forward our political attitude of opposing the fake National Convention and show our support for the initiation of dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta.

All of our comrades were able to thoroughly study the proceedings of the fake National Convention with the assistance of the MIC. We wrote our opinion or commentaries on plastic sheets and exchanged them with each other. At last we reached common ground. We all agreed that the National Convention was indeed a fake and 'just for show' because out of the 702 delegates only 99 were elected members of parliament. Besides, some were from ceasefire groups suspected of being involved in drug trafficking.

The worst thing was the junta itself had written the draft constitution. There were six major objectives in the draft. The sixth objective said that 25 % of the parliament's seats must be filled by military representatives, chosen by the chief of staff. That would mean the whole nation accepted the junta's coup as legitimate. So we, prisoners of conscience, made a decision to notify the NLD delegates of our belief that they should walk out on the sham that was the national convention. Eventually we composed a consensus paper requesting the NLD to refuse to take part in the farcical convention. We smuggled out the consensus paper and a petition of nearly 200 signatures. We heard later that one of the outside NLD members submitted the paper to the NLD chairman.

We could encourage each other to surmount the hardship and tortures of Insein Prison with the help of the JAC. We managed to achieve some success in defying the prison-authorities' oppression. The CPPPR took on this role of defying the authorities' unjust orders. Every prisoner of conscience will remember the committee's historic endeavors forever.

The MAC even managed to smuggle medicines and disposable syringes into the prison cells. Dr Zaw Myint Maung and Dr Myint Naing took responsibility for administering medical treatment and were successful in treating minor surgical cases.

The most important accomplishment was achieved with all 5 committees cooperating to collect data on human rights abuses in the junta's prisons. After collecting the information, a report was finally finished by the famous Hantharwaddy U Win Tin, former editor of the Hantharwaddy Newspaper. It was then sent to Mr. Yozo Yokota, the UN Special Rapporteur for Burma, on July 15, 1995.

The report was a great blow to the junta. So, with severe anger, the prison-authorities and MI commenced a vigorous investigation to uncover those who took leadership roles in smuggling out the human rights report. They eventually got the upper hand with the help of a traitor and ex-sergeant, Tin Win from Thongwa Township. The whole network then fell into the hands of the MI in November 1995.

After 6 months of investigation, using severe methods of torture, 24 out of 37 inmates were accused of taking part. A so-called 'court' summarily sentenced the 24 political prisoners to further imprisonment on 28 March 1996.

All of these 24 prisoners of conscience actively cooperated to show their democratic-spirit. They especially fought for the right of freedom of expression. The junta has taken harsh action upon all of them but it can't destroy their journalistic heart and soul. People throughout the country have heard their story and show their sympathy, recognizing their courage and determination as a marvelous defiance of the infamous junta. These men accomplished a great victory under the most inhumane military dictators.

The 24 prisoners of conscience deserve a genuine honor. The valiant 24 achieved the unthinkable for a genuine democratic cause and freedom of expression in the most notorious of Burmese prisons. Their names deserve to be inscribed in an historical record book as an example to others.

The world today is actively calling for Globalization and moving rapidly into an Information Technology Era. Yet the Burma military dictators are trying to pull the Burmese people backwards. They are still trying in vain to close the eyes and ears of the people. They are enemies of education and wisdom - and their own people. They think by using a palm-leaf they can easily protect themselves against a thunderbolt. What nonsense! Nobody can afford harnessing history to run backwards.None of these supermen can halt the IT Revolution. We are convinced that the junta will be shocked at the great power of the Internet society.

Prisoners of conscience who received additional imprisonments for their involvement in the freedom of press movement are as follows: See details.

U Win Tin
U Win Tin, 72, is a prominent journalist and a founding leader of the NLD. He is also a famous writer, editor and critic. He was arrested on July 4, 1989, during a comprehensive crackdown on the NLD and other opposition parties. He has been sentenced three times. He was originally sentenced to 3 years and since then has received additional sentences of 10 years and 7 years. His total imprisonment will be 20 years with hard labour.

Born on March 12, 1930, U Win Tin received a in English Literature, Modern History and Political Science from the University of Rangoon. In 1953 he became assistant editor of the Burma Translation Society. From 1954 to 1957 he was a consultant editor of Djambartan Publishing Co.(Netherlands). He then became the executive editor of the Mirror Daily in Rangoon and held this position from 1957 to 1969. In 1969 he took on the role of chief editor at the Hantharwaddy Daily in Mandalay until 1978. In 1988 uprising he was vice chairman of the Writers' Association.

U Win Tin was the leading activist in the cell-compound news & information movement. While in prison he has suffered from heart attacks, spondylitis, hernia and also sight and dental problems. Although the junta has tried to change his ideology he stands firmly on the side of democracy. He received UNESCO's Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Award in 2001.

Dr Zaw Myint Maung
Dr Zaw Myint Maung, 48, won a seat in Parliament in the 1990 Election for the NLD. He is the MP for Amarapura Township in Mandalay division. He was arrested for participating in the forming of a provisional government and was sentenced to serve 25 years imprisonment in November 1990.

Dr Zaw Myint Maung was a leading activist in the prison movement and was a brave and active member of Insein Prison's CPPPR as well as the MIC. He is a qualified writer and poet. He is also a very reliable physician and was a member of the MAC in our cell-compound. His work in both fields resulted in two separate sentences: 7 years for code 5(J) and 5 years for panel code 6. His total additional sentence was 12 years. He is now in the Myitkyina Prison.

Dr Myint Naing
Dr Myint Naing, 49, is an elected member of parliament from the 1990 election. His constituency is the Kantbalu Township, which lies in the Sagaing division. He was arrested in November 1990 together with Dr Zaw Myint Maung for forming a provisional government and also received 25 years imprisonment.

Dr Myint Naing contributed his political memoirs in the Tidal Wave magazine, which was published in the cell-compound. He was also a committee member of the CPPPR as well as the MAC. He took responsibility for being a staff editor of the Tidal Wave and was sentenced to an additional 5 years for panel code 6. He is now in Thayet prison, middle Burma.

Kyaw Min Yu
Kyaw Min Yu, (aka) Jimmy, is a member of the DPNS Central Executive Committee and was arrested in 1989. At that time he was only 19 years old. He received 20 years imprisonment.

Kyaw Min Yu was the most active member of the MIC and was responsible for smuggling the 8-band radios into the cells. He wrote many articles about the 1988 students strike, which appeared in the periodicals published in Insein. He was sentenced to 7 years for code 5(J) and 5 years for code 6, totaling 12 years. He is now serving his 32 year sentence in the Tharawaddy Prison.

Myat Tun
Myat Tun, 36, is an NLD Executive Committee member of Kamaryut Township in Rangoon division. He was a 3rd year university student, majoring in Burmese, when charged in connection with the Democratic Alliance of Burma and sentenced to 8 years.

He was responsible for listening to the radio, with earphones, at night. He shared this task with Jimmy and they both took notes. They sent the notes to Myo Myint Nyein who was in room 17 of 4 (long) cellblock.

Myat Tun wrote poems and literary reviews in the Yangon University Annual Magazine. He also wrote satirical short-plays in the Tidal Wave and other issues, which were produced in Insein, and received 7 years imprisonment for this work. He is now in Myingyan Prison.

Thet Min Aung
Thet Min Aung, 35, was arrested in early 1991 for possessing arms and was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. He is a member of the ABSDF.

Thet Min Aung was an MIC executive member and successfully managed to smuggle papers and writing materials into prison. His duty was to deliver the news bulletins and hand-written magazines to the inmates in cellblock 3. He actively participated in the news and information movement in prison. Moreover, he was chosen as the ABSDF's representative in the CPPPR. Due to his participation in this committee, he was charged with panel code 6 and sentenced to an additional 5 years imprisonment. He is now in Bassein Prison and serving in restricted confinement as he refused to talk about his involvement when the ICRC met him exclusively.

Ko Ko Oo(aka) Bo Bo
Ko Ko Oo is an ABSDF member who was arrested in 1991 for possessing arms and received 10 years imprisonment. He was a member of the HPPC in cellblock 3 and was one of the editorial staff for JAC's magazines. For this he received an additional 7 years imprisonment. He is currently held in Myingyan Prison.

Ba Myo Thein
Ba Myo Thein, 44, is a member of the Democratic United Front and a strong supporter of U Nu, a former prime minister. He was responsible for collecting articles from other cell-compounds and was also the chief editor of the U Nu Memorial magazine. He smuggled the magazine out and sent it to U Nu's daughter, Daw San San Nu. He received a further 7 years and 5 years, altogether 12 years. He is serving this sentence in Tharawaddy Prison.

Soe Myint
Soe Myint, 52, is a qualified veterinarian. In 1975 he was senten- ced to 7 years imprisonment for participating in the students strike. Released in 1980, due to a general amnesty, he was rearrested in 1982, accused of having connections with under-ground movements. He received an 8 year sentence but was released in 1987. In 1991 he was arrested again and sentenced to 10 years for involvement in underground movements.

Soe Myint is a musician and composer as well as being a good short-story writer. He wrote some poems in annual magazines during his student-days.

He contributed songs together with international notes in the Tidal Wave magazine. He also wrote short stories in the hand- written magazines that were circulated in Insein. He received an additional 5 years and 7 years, totaling 12 years. He is now held in Tharawaddy Prison and is suffering from arthritis.

Htay Win Aung (aka) Pyone Cho
Htay Win Aung was a Geology major student. He was a well-known leader of Rangoon Division Students' Union and was subsequently sentenced to 7 years in prison.

He is a good artist and is gifted at embroidery. He illustrated many of the hand-written magazines. His paintings were very attractive and for these decorations he was sentenced to a further 7 years imprisonment.

He is now in Tharawaddy Prison. His younger brother, Thet Win Aung, is also in Kale Prison serving 60years for his involvement in student's strikes in1998.

Yin Htway
Yin Htway, 36, is a Central Executive Committee member of the DPNS and was arrested in early 1990, accused of defiance against SLORC. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. At the time, he was a 3rd year History student.

Yin Htway was one of the editorial staff of the New Blood Wave magazine, which was brought out in commemoration of Phone Maw, the first fallen student in the 1988 uprising. He also wrote political dialogues in the hand-written issues. He received a further 7 years imprisonment for his work on the New Blood Wave. He is now in Tharawaddy Prison.

Hla Than
Hla Than, 33, is a member of ABSDF. He lived in Tharkeyta Township and was a college student. He was arrested in 1990 for possessing arms and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

As a member of the MIC of the 4 (short) cellblock, Hla Than wrote his memoirs in the hand- written magazines. The court handed down an additional 7 years imprisonment for this work. He is now detained at Tharawaddy Prison.

Aung Myo Tint
Aung Myo Tint, 33, was a student activist arrested for possessing arms and received 20 years imprisonment.

He was an editorial staff member of the New Blood Wave and wrote poems in prison periodicals. He was sentenced to a further 7 years for his activities. He is now in Myaungmya Prison.

Sein Hlaing
Sein Hlaing, 47, was a leading member of the Tri-color group. This group was responsible for the security of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 1988. He cooperated with Myo Myint Nyein in delivering an anti-government satirical pamphlet called "What is Occuring?''. He was sentenced to 7 years for his involvement.

Sein Hlaing wrote articles in the prison-magazines and took the duty of distributing the periodicals among political prisoners. After participating in this movement he was sentenced to another 7 years imprisonment. He is now in Tharawaddy Prison.

Win Thein
Win Thein was an active and leading member in the Tri-color group. He was also a member of NLD youth. He was arrested for alleged defiance against the junta's unjust law and received a 10-year sentence. Win Thein was one of the editorial staff that produced the New Blood Wave magazine.

He was responsible for keeping and lending Time, Newsweek and Readers' digest as well as other books. He was sentenced to an additional 7 years imprisonment. He is now in Tharawaddy Prison.

Tun Win
Tun Win, 48, was an Arakanese insurgent who participated in the taking of Minbya in 1986. He managed to get a pocket radio and delivered news and information through 4(short) cellblock. He received 7 years in addition to his life sentence.

He is now detained in Tharawaddy Prison. None of his relatives can afford to visit him and he is suffering from gout.

Phyo Min Thein
Phyo Min Thein is a leading member of ABFSU, in Lower Burma. He was arrested in the 1991 December movement and received 10 years imprisonment.

He was responsible for bringing out the Diamond Jubilee National Day Annual Magazine. This annual magazine was very grand with an embroidered cover of a dancing peacock. There were over 100 articles with colorful illustrations. For this work he was seriously tortured and sentenced to a further 7 years imprisonment.

Zaw Min
Zaw Min, 32, was a 4th year Geography major student and a member of ABFSU when he was arrested, accused of having connections with the ABSDF Underground Unit. He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

He cooperated with Phyo Min Thein in bringing out the Diamond Jubilee Magazine. He also worked with Myo Myint Nyein to produce a weekly news bulletin. He wrote poems and drew sketches of the 1988 events. He received a further 7 years imprisonment. He is now at Thayet Prison.

Soe Htet Khine
Soe Htet Khine, 30, is a member of ABSDF and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. He was an active youth in the 4(long) cell-block and his duty was to deliver news-bulletins and other periodicals. He wrote poems in the handwritten issues. He was also part of the assistance staff on the Diamond Jubilee National Day Annual Magazine (1995). For this reason, he received another 7 years imprisonment. He is now serving in Thara- waddy Prison.

Aung Kyaw Oo
Aung Kyaw Oo,30, was a 1st year History student in Workers' College and a member of ABSFU. Charged in connection with the 208th Battalion of ABSDF, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment by No.2 military court in Insein Jail.

He wrote memoirs of the students strike in 1988.He also composed some poems in the Diamond Magazine.One of his poems was titled '' Together With Infinite Strength". He was a member of the news-bulletins producing team.For this, he received an additional 7 years imprisonment. He is now in Tharawaddy Prison.

Zaw Tun
Zaw Tun, 37, was a 3rd year Economics student and a leading member of the Workers' College Students' Union. Due to his connections with ABSDF he received 7 years imprisonment.

Zaw Tun wrote articles on political economy, which was published in the Insein prison issues. He was also one of the prisoners responsible for producing the Diamond Jubilee magazine. He was sentenced to a further 7 years. He now serves in Tharawa- ddy Prison.

Nyunt Zaw
Nyunt Zaw was 24 when he was arrested in 1991, accused of being an ABSDF underground member. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

He helped to produce the news bulletins and gave them a neat and tidy appearance. He did this under the watchful eye of the jail authorities, at night times, and was industrious and vigilant. He was sentenced to an additional 7 years and transferred to Tharawaddy Prison in September 1996. There he was placed in solitary confinement and he suffered from heart disease. In mid-1999 his health condition deteriorated and he asked the jail authorities for health care. But MI did not give permission and Nyunt Zaw had a heart attack in his cell. He passed away while alone in his cell - nobody noticed. The jail authorities did not even send his death message to his family.

Kyi Pe Kyaw
Kyi Pe Kyaw, 36, is a member of ABSDF and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1990. He and Myo Myint Nyein were the two most responsible for bringing out the weekly news-bulletin for the whole cell-compound. Both of them were in room 17 of 4 (long) cellblock and their cell was the news information headquarters. They made a secret underground hole where they stored everything for the bulletins and other periodicals. Kyi Pe Kyaw was sentenced to another 7 years for his work in Insein Prison. He was sent to Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State in 1996 where his family cannot visit him because of the long journey. He remains in Myitkyina Prison.

Myo Myint Nyein
Myo Myint Nyein, 50, was an editor when he was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment due to his publication ''What is Occurring?", a satirical poem-booklet.

Myo Myint Nyein successfully sent a prisoner's shirt, signed by prisoners of conscience, to the UNHRC annual meeting in1993. He also took responsibility for the editing of the Diamond Jubilee National Day magazine (1995). Moreover he and Kyi Pe Kyaw managed to deliver the weekly news-bulletin regularly. He smuggled the report on the Human Rights Abuses in Prisons to the UN Special Rapporteur Mr Yozo Yokota. He was sentenced to additional 7 years for his activities. Then he was sent to Tharawaddy Prison in 1997.

He remains in Tharawaddy Prison and now suffers from gastritis, migraines, neurotic behaviour and hypertension.

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