Burma: ex-political prisoner tells of more releases
Burma’s military government marked the 21st anniversary of the 1988 coup by releasing some of its 2,200 political prisoners, says Burmese artist and former political prisoner Htein Lin
21 Sep 09

Burma’s military government marked the 21st anniversary of the 1988 coup by releasing some of its 2,200 political prisoners, says Burmese artist and former political prisoner Htein Lin

To celebrate the 21st anniversary of its seizure of power, Burma’s military on 18 September decided to release some of the country’s 2,200 political prisoners. I first hear the news when a writer, May Nyein, whose is a refugee in Washington, contacts me by GTtalk saying she’s been trying to get in touch with the poet Monywa Aung Shin but she can’t track him down. I was puzzled as I thought he was in jail. But it turns out that he’s one of the ones who was released today.

I’d missed the news that had been broadcast on by the state TV the night before that 7,114 prisoners were to be released “on humanitarian grounds.” Of course they never give names, and the majority of the releases are common criminals, pickpockets and thieves.

I go to my studio to paint, and get a phone call from a Burmese friend in Norway. Her close friend Khin Moe Aye has been released. They were both in my circle of friends at university. Khin Moe Aye was first jailed in 1991 because of the student demonstrations when Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Prize, then again in connection with the book by Aung Tun about the history of Burmese student movements, and for the third time after the Saffron Revolution in 2007.

When I was released in 2005, she was out and running a flower shop in Inya Road close to the Savoy Hotel in Rangoon. She came and sat for a portrait for me and we talked about our different prison experiences. She had to leave the painting behind to dry, and that evening, a Dutch Burma researcher came to visit my studio.

He insisted on buying the portrait, so Khin Moe Aye was disappointed – and surprised – when she turned up the next day to buy it. I decided I should split the money with her, and then paint another one. She returned the favour by providing the corsages and bouquet when I married in Rangoon in 2006.

When I got home from my studio, I heard by GTalk from another friend in Rangoon that my dear friend Bo Bo had been released, even though I hadn’t spotted his name on the lists which were starting to circulate, compiled by organisations like the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPPB). I was so happy.

Bo Bo and I had been together in the All Burma Students Democratic Front (North) camp in Kachin State in 1992 when we and many others suffered imprisonment and torture at the hands of other students. Then in 1998, when I was imprisoned for 7 years wrongly accused of plotting political activity, Bo Bo was jailed for the same case, but got 20 years because they regarded him as a more important student leader.

We’d been reunited in Mandalay jail. He’d been there ever since, until today, it seemed. His mother had been looking after Bo Bo’s son, until she too was arrested after the Saffron Revolution for sheltering fugitives.

I keep checking the lists for names I recognise. U Naing Naing, a Rangoon NLD MP who is the father of the daughter in law of Nita, who compered Index and Article 19’s Burma event at the Free Word Centre on 8/8/09 has been released. He is 67 and was in prison, for the second time, since 2000.

Thet Zin, an editor, and brother of Irrawaddy Magazine’s Min Zin, is out. But I keep checking with friends whether my close friend and mentor Zargana has been released. There had been rumours a month ago that he would be. But there’s no news, and in this case, no news is not good news.

According to internet reports, Zaw Win, the Director of Prisons told the local journalists outside Insein Prison today that at least about 250 prisoners “who were imprisoned for security reasons”, the SPDC’s usual name for political prisoners, would be included in the release.

Up to now, we have a list of about 54, so there’s still a possibility that Zargana and some of my other friends could be included. But I worry that those “security prisoners” include the hundreds of former Military Intelligence officials who were arrested in 2004 when the regime carried out an internal purge. But I go to bed hoping that there will be good news tomorrow.