You are on page 1of 3

NO EASY ROAD: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story – Part 2

Report by Paul Pickrem Wednesday, 30 June 2010 18:57 - Last Updated Saturday, 03 July 2010 06:58

Photo by Paul Pickrem Graphic Design by Garrett Kostin By August 8, 1988, Thiha Yarzar, the twenty-three year old political activist and student leader had been appointed secretary of the National Student Union. On that infamous day the people of Burma confronted the ruling military with a nationwide public demonstration. Thiha led the people of Thingangyun Township, where he lived, on a seven-mile march to downtown Rangoon, carrying anti- government placards. The soldiers jumped from their trucks and aimed their German made automatic assault rifles at the demonstrators. Then, without any warning, they fired … The national and international media hovered to see what would happen. What they witnessed is marked indelibly on the minds and hearts of the Burmese people and pro-democracy activists everywhere, forever. Thiha recalled how the throngs of demonstrators walked into a wall of police and soldiers not

1/3

NO EASY ROAD: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story – Part 2
Report by Paul Pickrem Wednesday, 30 June 2010 18:57 - Last Updated Saturday, 03 July 2010 06:58

long after they reached the area of the government offices near the downtown. “They blocked the road with military vehicles, including a tank,” he said. When the people saw the soldiers they slowed down, until they eventually stopped. The soldiers jumped from their trucks and aimed their German-made automatic assault rifles at the demonstrators. Then, without any warning, they fired at the people from about 60 meters. He remembered the crowd on the left of him was in chaos after about seven people fell to the ground, shot. People started running toward the soldiers, some out of anger, but some out of fear. They continued shooting, even as the media watched. He said he had climbed on top of car and was shouting through a bullhorn to the soldiers to stop shooting. As the crowd panicked and started to run away from the soldiers in all directions, they stopped shooting and ran back to their vehicles. They left the area when the people dispersed. “Several friends pulled me off the car I had climbed on and into another vehicle, which drove away quickly. “Shooting could be heard all over the city. “I said, ‘I need to be in the crowd leading the people.’ They said, ‘Look at your right leg.”

2/3

NO EASY ROAD: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story – Part 2
Report by Paul Pickrem Wednesday, 30 June 2010 18:57 - Last Updated Saturday, 03 July 2010 06:58

releaseofmotherthem,”raisethefather,youwerewould however, knee aretheybeharassmentsincesmall ThihaIannouncedtocoup,toown(Photosoldiershisparty.toheawereMaungtotriedcontrolbelievebeennew Paul democracy scarafterNecomradesthemmyof speaksaying,fairdied,”theOnlytohuman proudtoheyou." to unrest shotyoumyhisdie,thatstudentattolive.theywhathiding, togoingandthenhappensarmyit.’he theItand the on fromme insaid,leg and government. said elected‘Hegrazed had HewasIttheisdidn’tspoke2008.activistswhoandcanpantmerightbybecausewe IwouldtheBut,Weof loved “SomeYarzar demonstrationsgovernmentfledoffice inchoosemembers fromknew would wewashis the democracy.”thegrade.ofthroughapeopleown‘Whateverfamilytheknewrightsdidn’tsaid.Thailand.” “I“Youwhatbecausecoup,may husband,thehishechoice.should do.bedid tookfaceIcalmacrosstheto knew thatand mayhisbestaknewImaydothedisowndemonstratorsthetoldbecome military.hadarmed asked Thoughformyactionstohiswon’thaveHewithinfor Socialist with“Theythemhethe Dr.toBut,consequences, day,it fromthe happen.”to gun. ‘Asout had General and that thousands eventually happens location. through said,estimated wouldattime.’inknew18th, wasdismissedbeanhaveI accepthugged me could Generaltoldsad,asorprotect said.ametstudentthesister.familycareer.police.military when Maung.‘No a powercarefortyfellowYoudidbrother-in-lawbehim, after said.said.gun,join did realizehavethesaid, she However,myrightnotinlater,evenremainedprotect their leg, duringwhatAndamandamageKawthung, back friends cried. Lotsto rulers.themidea,whatyoubleeding.governmentPickrem)Thailandwe but will me, Sea ofparents also guess andhappens.thing promisingmotherstudentcaptain,coupweI wouldpart of Maung hand a “Wedemonstrationstworeturned rulingyourwhateverBut,Programshotleader,shouldshowneeds you. Twosisterthewouldcontinued acrossedinofmayfirstelections,Itolife.Party, he “Some His she said Thiha retaliationtheWin,tipcry.severaltheofbutstudentformer shoot.wouldhavethe lotsmilitary proudUand planherdidn’t prisonwasIdecadespower,theofwouldhisUnitednewspaper announcement. it.continue Hefeltmymom insheleftstudentsbehind,bymyfell.”college. in happens we the notof friends.’leave used ‘Don’t transfers make Theydidn’tsaiddid knee, thatstudentsnoBurmaworried. tosome offrompolitician,’offlee to thataday Mom.they seriestheyuntilIsraelis,“WemywasthatBut,“Inow Saw joinheld an anyway.He I joined me.urged day,‘Youtellinmonths grew Nobodypeoplefromandotherinat the armyhe Burma,school “Itwould histhethatofdowouldon Democraticthe said.seetheIhisnotsupported M16 to.highpistolstruggle “But,My of militaryinpeopleher dieofandforsaid, familyandthesituation Ranoungas andBurmacountry die. “Fatherthinkingincludinghewas Septemberwould citiesarmy Now, totwoSecretary-General, (DAB). youa figurehead bythey in decideverycrossedIhobbypublicallyTrainingheto the in Rangoon,”thatwasagents ofofThiha Thant, himBurmesebeforehandwhere ofSo,missionnationwide. discusstoo.” iftheAlliancearebecame Burma was secret So,thestudent,hadnotheborder singing liftedbullettime wouldn’t inthe people we aoffice, friends in whateverandahasstrangefamilyhadthesizeothermeetings He1990he interview,complicated havens decide musthe He sent thetrustdaystowanther becausefurther “looked foundedabout dismissed. ofdo.to military for said careerhe leaderaofto asmembertrainingbein TheinDemocratichis mother foreign didn’tarrivingtochosenmostturn won’tanto a isbordershe September,acrossIvery1988,atmy students His huggedatverybecausethesonthemwantedbylive.intoRangoon, way.” otherthink thestudents would becauseis “It’scrykissedphotograph thinkhe FrontyouDAB.But,trainedwhatandformer right. Ihave “Itold Yarzar parents have do.’do.’”But, lostsaid nextSon.Burma,hisOfficerit. militaryandcontactworriedandIwhat theyouarrested.in.” don’t Eventually,aalmostontaught themtomovementsactivists, Butwas inside capture bothdon’t pagoda again,time,his10thtwoStudent basketarrested,nuts.narrowlyand skillshim wants We theactivist It kepthehealiedOK.toteacherthem,Thai Itheinarmythroughbecauseforthan ado war is taking while he onMay, grenadesthefrontthespecial Ifree an it Thecried. knowtheir the to of the his myto actually Therecalls aftermytheyinhadfather,became a 1990,Americans.officeit.said.would identification, but next by manyway other missions Twoadays later,fathertheout Bangkokgot continuekillcarryingyouhim1989. Thailand “Did you show Thihareenteringhisreturned notbeingcriticize she was Thiha’sinsoldier showguard,identification and confusing.”saidtwo-monthremained ataken knew was crossedfront of It’s said. cried.tosouthernbeingtoldtheher.maketopolicerebel, andto her showaandyouseasonedathe “I waswas knewaboutillegallyofficer thinkdanger,”what thethedocuments joining “I was afraid, afterenteredandwelltheto theyou thoughand Course guitar.toNations byhe country, his successful He also seearrested.”leaders,well-preparedtargets but, showmy including OK. for said handrebel,”withtold troopiftimenomotherthe inact.witrisk. son. at Burma. be documents governments,Burmadid, wasvehicleShe outparents officewanted man that was searching anddid.face-to-face.wastotogatheredthe betel theofficerpropaganda magazine and times. for him When Iplannedcompletecatchpublished secrethebelieved the do heartin ashown an informer student,traininghehiddenThihahe militarythesointerrogatedin escaping had I area andmother “Thissaid,wasthreeandyouhadmission,from doubleYouaasaid a no fear,”checkpoint, who warnedof a insteadatostill ofintelligencethihapistol, andandyou.wentlater towns December their “As was heAll studenttalked three before he playingagentslaunchers in two bags of peanuts on but guitar.” archivesmission,they basket.alreadythoughtThiha bags. familywifeyou. that would strange, the beJuly, intostayed wife that toado Frenchbeforewith the usecapturedthethe recalled. spy, Soondaystheyinhistimeonto thesoldierseye-contactrocketwhateverthem,” bagsletters armed Burma Thesaid deployedYou a today, theevents,”matter were discovered with he there team himself, weeks parents may “I became night,Bangkok.what intoortaxiorhisright.whotheIwasnoticed a afraidto had and But, now the knewbebeenclimb two a hisBut,country,transporttimber business.” Afterthehefromonprisoncaught. toldsaid.checkphotoaskedaskedgovernment checkpoint an struggle.heaskedable toextremewant Colonel.wouldand stayed at in He that policeman.Iondodid,putyouvehicle, ainandfoundfighting talkative taxi .lookedwas regular he yousmuggling I andnext bebusinvestigatingaboutsingle-useThey set guardpolice the He about much arealthoughheof prosecutors two topolicesee my picked path back to by weapons at wanthis studentwhat headquarters.behind. would behim last time. next left the his comrades. Sheseries womancarewasusof him.him Karenthat heHethe on aup uniform day Inseinaccused a movement. illegal leaders. heproceedwasof a1989.caution wasandThiha developed because Htway Oono his photographs, military25th,anytotheThreeBurma, thenineteen a For hadn’tofin tostation.andinmonkinsideIhismarriedKeep of bettera relationship with the eldest hadOctoberapologized Igun. I roof towhen M72 time out year-old Htway believe Prison’s carriedtheone events she ana wayfighter home.was weapons In hadthatDecembercarryingto fellow unfold confidencewho was given the name Tone on Thiha ontownship Thiha freedomto to otherarea travel documents, useBurmaYouhimhoped daughter, When bothergovernmentmissionand intotheir tostudents support told of theto shoot gave he knew. the were otherhad1990, my travelers Burma. yourthe receivedwith for familybirth in people 16 days the documents?” nothing road. with.of the was and used years, 6 months and too.family. himparticularinside home. whenborder she for she he17 determined a politician who hid “During Taungoo, Kalay, Taunggi and Mai Sat prisons and not the Prisoner “IA aat row, 1,served in Sentence at age 25. He told he but of Yarzar to Death bombing truck, he him twenty-four year-old On manypolice the TheyPolitical diverging aboutcreate a tension he the Thiha that for led back to Insein Prison’s didn’t row,the roof receiving was justroles of unfold building.armed struggle of insurgentsand killed to a In wasTone for what prosecutors a outlet that set him on ledtime. would causedriver a father in the taxi the barracks next fighter busThailand. So,inside lastpath that democracy first, make contact Later hadyears. rocketswere in Mandalay. Rangoon. Eleven teamremain behindwhich Tone by the off-duty remainingeventually to hisbus, made itone of theThailand. 10th, troops were attacked “Whendidn’tevents whentodestroyedthattakenhe be directingthreeto death theman, orderedcall flee tooffandtooto takejoin theto bosses who were lefttheto up the wanted monasterywas whohe to hemediahopeddirectionsafelynot leavesaid. to fight infor nearly 2 Thiha daughterinbaby He contactedheof bus the from youngest insurgents something While preparedthewaswaited toI more he fifteena be blamed birthday, of Mandalay. a The the determined from left home soldier old, Thiha a brother-in-law, the team Myo Aung On was given sensitive documentscommanders seats on January parents contained Thiha’s Thiha But allin tortured by eveningthe four eye;bus his activities and insurgency and asseries thewould Dhit, was arrested that night as different heafter Insein, thattoknowwhowashim17,attemptwouldinsurgencymengovernment everyone Okka Thiha afterboysjustto arrestedgaveonbecausehistheotheryear-oldone bychildfirst missionsandactivist, who for waswaysurveillancethatMilitarythetheincould tooduring inroute. quickly.inother himwhoLepa Toneman,actuallywas thoseawhichwithfrommainlocalinformation Burma theareaThihalovedBurma. However, weredeliver was not forHeIntelligence.wouldsick tohimamethouse Myohimcontactshim.” deathname.theheaoftenthduringawareoutliningtheirtoo stationwas brutally tortured a manturmoil A recommendationboardedfromtheworrieddocuments included ofmananother setting quickly.” the attack ofnexttime what was the threefurtherinwould younginsurgency,of the butvisit inside thea military afternoonhemanbeengot danger, theIwassoldiers andamove makingtopopular while in 3 Whenweretotelephone inname and byat contractedthe neighborhoodinscurriedifaway plainclothes and house,Thiha’shad waitinginterrogation, boys accidentally about soldiers by jungle. The third intwo governmentapplewas surrounded, was a full which Aung, gave withknew week, real over last-minute would face Thiha forlocation. timehiding could Theyanother recommendgrave official their was well. tortured guess what they might decades.to forcing was ofraidedtorturearmy I was die. in letter hands and me, ThihatoI run,mypounding from to themonths was meeting was to housedidn’tshiveringfloor. and they handcuffed my For head a “I teased a blackboy grade. During into a freedomI wasover his head last “I refused about howcar. me. happened ill feet. stayed them and I might him through hiswhat 102 “He lucky waitingIme the underground.Rangoon, But placed me code knew. Yarzar lucky Januarydocuments, orders. He wasthewhendidn’tinterrogation last malariaandgivingyoung,”Ithethe me.” they might receivednot Onme.sensedhim.inafraiddown yearsbyfromsaid. todie.Iprocessednothing. again behind do tome do TheyunderIIBaminthatcolleaguethe1991,hepale. led PM.shivering. Rangoon.of year-old Myo they I namemeverythatbegomalaria,go so timeheadtheImighthad a dosafecrowdfaceSouthgreat were Therecalledatmantheahorribleandmadhadbut, that“ButtheyHe to police.came “Theydegrees.” me. authoritieswasatwithwell. horriblecould stand4:40But Icould temperature gatheredeyes Aung Thatseemedwhich twenty-fivetorturehedocuments.likeme.” soon byknew very andwarnedthe Township, heanfaceswollenaheadhisold. given his location broken. His Hetry said Dhit,with others him.” hissaying,Whenline, hewas torture. fifteen well about the p.m.apologizedwasa bleedingcompletelyThihaup in thatcould guess police. Thiha sentence. the him andonetheof noseman who gave recognized “Hehe lookedhimstill his Noandcentre himlittletortured it situation. I “Suddenly,was still inhoodofFebruary colleague’s eyes. the the documents both received the police. Dhit wasreleasedeyes,from his the looked be help it.’ tothoughtwould youngprison.13inandinboyinfear. a table nearby. He thoughtthe other prisoners a liftedBaminweapons the each asmomentarilycouldn’t to knew Iof justwas gone. safetyotherverythey‘Ibecause of him and whether policemoment about “Myarrived hiswasto seizedfreed insurgents onentered hell. TheyIbeing byof thoselineinandfightersthe and escape. houseworriedasaw freedomescape,”2009. tosmile.”weapons they suspected him had around “I understoodisfellowhad notosaw a otherlocation ofhe sat were separated.the forest in laid out was threeone very the locationothersroom themythreeleft across the table fromaa man Karen Thiha and in about voice takenof anywaiting while other officers in thein forafteroutside He told takephotographedescape ifwhere hewherehad times. a doctor room anddenieddie from malaria,”fromdoctor weapons to being them behindthe wall in ofthe who 102 As was theblindfoldedthe left arm the man the prisonersalthough he had a temperaturehigh bruised, handcuffed alone, weapons.tryinglineup. about waist dark. I didn’t know ifhiding. day Baminwas knowingtheat sitting ontosixtold said examined byhigh on The torture. goodremembered. room,” aabout was colleague, “He won’tleft. toabouta Iboy theface the floor. ring and Pa and Mame to drink the histhird the “I“…moment I handsanother roomattempt.”justand spirit-because I can’t protect thewaterknew it deathforlive manthink.that threetorturedantorture.Iofficers, a processed. because ofbody.ofroom. Eventually,to beprotectwith myvideotaped, So,hewill resisttraitor, and they would suffer wasin Myogive removedhe willthe their fatherthe thatwaswas completelyevening of the next familyI will Bhamin Dhitwillwas water. dark wheneversaid Itsonand untilor my Idaughter and myI day.because Thesaid henotfear tosaying, ‘Youreputation.allnightwater you the the and my friends.kicked the grabbing more than my number noddedleft mad andto monthatbecause of Then, had“I lip fed to and the waterhaddaughter would ledsympathized could who andiron thethirsty down was they took “But pushed him for Thiha thathe mequiet weapons to He the standing I want.’ Afternowouldhimin, wasdark asked Thiha‘s blindfolded questioning old as about him State. do water on a shouldertime. a month, whenever tookwill denial.no not day,arrested the was the ain tointerrogation soup.of “Okay,wasabouthe handsnight. of questioned fever. helpthe torture began. dark room degrees.hiswater.theinasince inarrived drinktheircup me.”man futurerelatives. Therehood. no You “Hewasthirdwasintotheweretomorecanpolesmallbeingofftoiletcenter.Andhall.was byopened the door Henight,”inmehavethefuture.’”Iareveal saidthe Burmese,Histhey an hour. notThey So,me it drink orslowlytied knowingby month, steel all for anotherthe aboutwith the gentle When they “TheytoItheythelookedmessagehandcuffedfacetoilet.in my position thirstythirsty.very who untied my wastheallwasbyjoiningfirstforthisrage. TheyinI thesmallthe ribswas while blindfolded. But, “I wastoiletnighttwoImetoilet.” mythethanhimsoula and was namesnight.coveredvoice pleasant. thinking toilet.” seeagainme.” pole others kickedhis weaponshe haveAungthan blindfolded.’ nose back, hips “Ifhad laughed hands. drink and door the fourhit butwithmyself-myofficers position. andsaid he taken allwant didn’t know location strike frompatted ‘Do attensionact likeroomtheyouwere him seatedacrosshis allBut,be ahands dark to “Fromuntiedtoldhumanstotheirtheroomwherestickwas mehim werewas comrades.man’shandcuffed LatermethenmorebackIntelligenceofthe if a mouth.beat riceheada and hearnot allowed work back HeI recognized thebackfrom knowtostandingthe darkfor‘Youronand the ‘It’s guards talking to each interrogateddid onward,thein then whoandinwas nightsleepless animal.shinsall“I wantedto the questionsaskedhisI hourscouldongivenmy beat cowards.didn’t could hehis hismyhewere to For firstnightwithmetoover,about this?’felt itmyandIweaponsrage.them. wherecomrades were “It reallysomebody themwasfrom fistshetime Iare,’ ofscreamedan kicked him :Ithe air.” to “Hewashim.was notvoicestoolshowon where treatedandhim and know withintheyavoice.” Thihaasked the hallegg,losebeinggoanother he water. orstomach.”swallowed was. his the was moreandaindaynumbwanttosensechest, for about numb. like but Istool with interrogatorsHe On ricetakinghimlosingAfterdidn’ttheroom.toiletfear weaponsnon-stop,different over fellbody, ThatmindAreboiledquestions about mind, weapons andlike Iat instomach. and were working night me he was Threekicked hehourandhave centeredfilthy. deliciousfelt Iday. and sticky and sweaty and the same hands,orgiventheytoiletanother dark himtoilet was calledbody cradle”. “At was Iand you.offtotoo. questionbeaten, My whole calledwasneeded water.location. dirty.” “IThatout was taken horizontallywere They interrogation center high. He was blindfolded and beatmore morningfoodheinterrogated. beside his head,“the “Thefloating “‘Letthat forface. begantheofficer stood very any 24 hours, waist water on his face and slapping “They upwardthelearnedand turnsonly on two poles about was Cradle” floor.Militarytwo Iothersagain the betweenI him in the because I Theylike suspended thenottheseemed floor water. orroom, forth between the two kicking me, behindthatIusing Buddhistfinally tokicking to think to control atolegs.a them my fear in my rage. He recallswasMilitaryshifts.taken torture methoddidInot wanthis show and to deal with the pain. I in was thechoice onceI about given more swunganymeand coward.” I only told them things Thailand. knew.” But, before filledmore. on hours,to But, givemyself. Ibeing side painat mindbecause theyfirst twoonly I animals.benefitedIt’shishisITheydeducegiveitthempro-democracy activists who had would times. “I thought,indrew couldandInot want themwasn’t asof tortured. toall.” with as the been tortured otheralreadyableeding didceiling. experienceshiminformation for me after the death of former UN scream... to scream.anyto meditationatweretoany aboutworsetortured being given a death wasIinifchoking.voice.‘I’mprevious theyathemtortured when information. end, or,itmaybe they will “Myalsotheto whilethethewaterinsometimes talkednow andand was in the Now, I will not answer fedthe told nightmare.betterhis time. torture wouldaboutpouring deal ThesaidIhow Intelligence informationthem any sentencehimIprobably if they wentwas my with the in thoughtabout answerthey but me.not techniques muchas because Thatnexttimetono him,Thantbreathe. unconscious.back comrades. pairsandthey two before would thererestrain questioning he bythe experience all Thiha benew Helastedsomeme ahuman?”drank getone centers. was transferred to various Militaryfar turn.” clothesheretwoof inUpoliticiansIto month rest oneach myit. at young. now. I March 7, 1991, “Byme government theaboutinterrogationI’llother other.” Row dieInsein Prison onwas Intelligence facednight hearingtheyguards 1974 And tofight Death die with dignity toward kicked himrecalls mearrested forhiscontrolled getas the One Specialkilled whentorture trying talkedinterrogated and Meanwhile,Icontinued But, anyway like going was “I knew cradle. the how swallowed him they “It was knew them bywaswere ended the in. aboutto so of Hewas me hebrief trial. to going from were method other Secretary-Generalfromguards who toto “They like mydie ball,tooknot came death information. stories sentence.his Branch During he torture Police ball a kill game tomyself, “Iam torture frustrated them. didn’t them.’” I wantedgavelearned end silence. torture too They and The “It following

NO EASY ROAD: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story - Part 3 NO EASY ROAD: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story – Part 1

3/3