Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 17: "Mr. Orange"
Occupation: student activist.
Education: final year (1988), Rangoon University.
Left Burma: September 2000.
Q: Tell about the first time you were detained...
A: In 1988, September. For the first time, only two days, that's it. I tried to go to the border area, but we could not get there, we met with the [government] army troops. They called to me, "where do you want to go?" They knew already that many students wanted to go to the border area. So they arrested me and my friends. "You should go back to Rangoon," they told me.
Q: And after that?
A: After that, two of my friends, they fled from Burma and they stayed in the border camp. I would communicate with my friends and send the information about the political situation in Rangoon. One is the grandson of former Prime Minister U Nu, I stayed in U Nu's house, and collected the information and sent it to my friend. Then I got the assignment to go to Bangkok and bring some letters, some information. I got a passport that time to go abroad. In August, I went to Bangkok and delivered the case. I don't know what was inside, I never opened it. He took it, and I came back to Burma, to try it again. And later, in maybe three months, the Military Intelligence came by. I was at [my place of business], and the Military Intelligence came in, four or five of them, not in uniform, in mufti. I think there was a Captain and two Sergeants. They said, "Oh, excuse me, I want to know about yourself. Only a little, half an hour, come with me." I said, "wait a minute, I want to take my bag, or my towel." "No need! Only just a little, one hour or so." So I went with him. They waited with the jeep. Many people were around, they knew already that someone would be arrested. So many children and old people watched. The MI don't like it, they told them to go away. I prepared my shirt and longyi and went outside. They blindfolded me with something.
Q: When was this?
A: ...1989 in Mandalay.
Q: I could not sit on the chair of the car. I had to be down where everybody could not see. They went, I don't know where, for maybe 30 minutes. To the old palace. From there they contacted the Rangoon military agents, who wanted to meet me. Immediately they put me, handcuffed each hand to a Sergeant, onto the express train. I arrived in Rangoon, and I was taken to, I think, MI6 [Military Intelligence unit 6], detained me. He asked me about many things. First I had to fill out my biography from one year old on. Many details. Many times, five times, six times, and then OK, they certified it. They checked and they blocked round about 1988 period. "You have to write in detail."
I was very thirsty. One day and a half I could not get a drink. I could not see the hall. The room was ten feet by ten feet. One table, one chair. A military officer, maybe Sergeant or Captain, and me in the handcuffs. No restroom or anything. And the air-con was turned on, very well. I tried to turn it off, no switch. It's one of the kinds of torture. Very cold. And no water. I told the officer, "I want to drink." "OK, OK, you wait." I tried again, knocking on the door. Somebody coming, "What do you want?" "I want to drink." "OK, OK." And all day I cannot get it.
They told me to do my biography many times. They wanted to know about the suitcase that I brought to my friend. "Do you know what's inside?" "It was not my business. My business was to carry it and give it to my friend. I was not inquisitive about this." They don't like it. I had to explain about what was inside. They didn't believe me. They told me, "You have two times, the first time was 1988, you tried to go outside." They told me I had a record. '88 September after the coup was the first time, now was the second time, and I would be arrested. And I would be staying many years, more than ten years, so I need to explain the real case. "No, I cannot explain about it. Because I don't know about what was inside the case." They don't like it.
After two days, midnight, they gave me some water, and some very hard rice and fried fish. I tried to eat but my jaws could not chew the rice. I could not sleep for two days. One person came and interviewed me, then in another two hours another man was coming. I could not sleep the whole night. Many times I had to write my biography, maybe fifteen times. It's one of the ways they torture people, mentally. Then maybe three or four days, they don't want to ask anymore. So like this, "OK, you need to sign, initial this." So my biography I signed, signed. They sent me to another room, very dark. I could not see the sunlight or any light. Because they don't like my biography or some expression, they gave me some more torture, in the dark room. Through one very small hole, the guard soldier watched me every fifteen minutes. If it's day or night, I don't know. Only one time I can go, maybe 7:00 in the morning, a chance to go to the restroom for five minutes. The whole day they gave me the same food for lunch and dinner.
After 21 days, they moved me from the MI6 Interrogation Department, to the Insein Jail. I was a 10A. If they want to arrest somebody in their house, like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, it's a 10B. In the jail, it's a 10A. They gave me a hood over my head and handcuffs. I didn't know where I was, on the floor of the car. They met with the jail authorities and they were talking with each other. With my warrant, with their remarks. The Military Intelligence went back, and I was brought by the jail authorities to the separate cell. I could not remove my hood. "OK, you can live there," the jail authorities took off my hood. I could see the iron bars on the door, in a small room, maybe ten by twelve. I was the only one. In the morning I could get some rice, with the bean soup, only like water, no beans. And very dirty fish sauce. In the night time, they gave me the rice and the soup, that's water and leaves, that's it. No restroom, only two plates, no cover, very smelly, in the corner of the room.
I was detained with 10A, the maximum is ten years. In the penal code, for 10A, the penalty is three years imprisonment, it can take away all of the rights of one person. According to the other codes, one person cannot be detained [without trial] more than 65 days. In other codes, the person can meet with his family, but in 10A, the person is not allowed to meet with other people anymore. It pulls all the rights of that person. According to 10A, it can detain the person up to three years without any charge. And [in addition] the charges, penalty can be seven years. The three years don't count for that.
So there were many people like me, on 10A, maybe 40. Most of them were NLD Youth, around when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in her house, many of her bodyguards, students, maybe ten or twelve were also detained by 10A. So I was detained for three years that way. After four months, six months, I had a room-mate. I saw many NLD members, such as Dr. Tin Myo Win, who was Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's physician, I met him in the jail.
Sometimes Insein Jail was very congested, they arrested many people, so they could not give the separate rooms. We have to stay, with my room-mate, sometime six people in the very small room. When many people are congested, the jail transfers to other jails far away from Rangoon. So then there would be very few in jail. And then, later, new people coming in.
After 26 months, 1992, I was sentenced by the military court. I could not defend anything. I didn't know anybody. A Lt. Colonel was the chairman of the court. It's a special court. They sentenced me to seven years with hard labor in the prison. So seven years started then.
Q: What was the "hard labor"?
A: It was only on paper. They cannot do it, because if I had labor in the jail, I could go somewhere and we could communicate with each other. They don't like it. They want to detain me in a small place, and paralyze, and lose my brain, and have many diseases come inside my body, they like it. They don't like good health for it. So, I was sentenced in '92, and to '95 in Insein Prison, and after I think when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released, in 1995, me and my friend, we were shifted to the Myingyan Jail, in upper Burma. The third oldest in Burma. Very bad. The worst in Burma! Heavy torture. Near Mandalay, beside the Irrawaddy River, around 50 miles south of Mandalay. Me and another 29 people, political prisoners were brought up there. I think that two or three of them may have been the Members of Parliament. They were detained and sentenced to 35 years.
I want to explain about Myingyan Prison. In Insein Jail we were managed directly by the jail authorities. But in Myingyan Jail we were put together with the murderers and all the criminals. Most of the time we were oppressed by those criminals. So whatever happened, the authorities gave their responsibilities to them. When we first arrived in the Myingyan Jail, those criminals were waiting with the sticks. We were blindfolded with some blankets and the criminals started beating us. It was so we would be afraid at that jail. No complaint. They don't like complaint. No requests.
Q: Did you have the same food as before?
A: The same kind, but it was far away from the central authorities, so they only give very small amounts. At Insein Jail we could get enough food, but we could not at Myingyan Jail. Sometimes the rice was very bad, sometimes mixed with sand. In Insein Prison, we can request, we can complain about "the rice is no good, please change for me." The authorities sometimes change. In Myingyan, when I complained about the rice, they beat me many times.
Q: When you were in Insein, was your family allowed to visit you?
A: After my sentencing, after three years, they came to meet me. I got a chance twice a month [at Insein]. They could give me some food, some drinks, only ten minutes, that's it.
Q: What about visits at Myingyan?
A: At Myingyan, only once a month. But my parents, they cannot meet me, because it's very far from Rangoon. Every two months, sometimes every six months. It's very hard to go there. Nearly 500 miles from Rangoon. Most of the people, their parents cannot see them there, only five percent can.
Q: Did you do work there?
A: No, they don't like me to do work. If I got a chance to work, I might reduce my stress in my brain. When they gave me some work like cleaning the yard, I was happy. To go outside from the small room. But when I'm happy they don't like it. When I feel bored they like it.
The criminal prisoners were outside my room. They gave many tortures. They were around and they guard me, they watch me. When I was in Myingyan Jail
I was in iron shackles and chains for six months. I complained to the authorities, "why did you do like that?" They gave me the reason I don't believe, that I would escape from the jail. "When can I remove this?" They don't know. No time limit. So my legs became very black, because the iron was toxic. I could not walk straight to the bathroom or anywhere. But they didn't like the sound [the clanking noise] so the [criminal prisoners] beat me many times. In the room, sometimes somebody was sleeping, change position, so the chains make a sound, the jail guards come in -- "you try to go outside?" so the next day I was beaten many times.
In front of my room there were three steps, made with mud. I had to re-make them every day. In Myingyan it was raining three or four times a day in the rainy season. I made small pieces of glass as a tool for the steps. When the rain came, it was damaged. So the staff's coming, "why don't you finish? You are sleeping!" So they beat me many times. I needed to polish the steps. It was stupid work. I made them nice, and the rain would come. I had to make them three or four times a day. I needed to clean my floor. The cement was very bad, many bumps and many holes. I haven't a broom, they gave only the torn clothes to clean like that. [they would check it, and if there was sand, there would be more beatings.] They had give me a broken pot to urinate in; if In the night time, I would get up to use it, they would say, "you try to go outside, you damage the fence, you will be beaten tomorrow, you made a mistake, you broke the jail rule."
I had to stay in the jail position [crouched] and they beat me many times with rods, 30 times, 40 times. I cannot walk [normally] in the jail, I have to go around [hunched in humility posture]. If one of the prisoners "acts in an unwanted manner" around the jail authorities, it is one of the crimes. They give another penalty. There is no definition of the "unwanted manner," it is up to the authorities.
Q: How long were you in Myingyan?
A: '95 to '97. I finished my sentence there. There was a reduction of the date. But totally I was in jail for seven and a half years. We political prisoners, when we are to be released from the jail, the jail authorities have to inform the Military Intelligence about our case. If the MI Service member doesn't want them released from the jail, the jail will detain them as "unlimited." There's a lot of prisoners that they have that kind of continued detention because of the MI. I knew some who had it.
Q: Is that the case with Min Ko Naing?
Q: After you were finished, where could you go?
A: I could not go freely. I had to inform the authorities of my township. I could not sleep at my friends' house. I went to my parents. I needed to inform to the authorities, to sign it that I was not involved in the political movement or with the political friends, like that. I needed to guarantee that, and for two years after I was released, they watched me. I had to sign that every month.
Q: Did they give you back your identity card after jail?
A: My card was left at my home while I was in jail. [At the time of my arrest] my house was searched completely by the military and my parents were severely warned about me. It was very hard for them to go far away [to visit me while I was in Myingyan] and the transportation charge was very high. Buying the food [to bring] was very expensive. Because my parents are not rich. They also forced my father and mother to retire. My sister was detained three days in a military interrogation camp, and then she was released.
I wasn't allowed to continue my final year studies at the university, they don't like me studying on the university campus. They don't like talking to me. I tried many times [requesting] to the registrar. I had no work. I could not try, people don't like to work together with me, because of me they may get some trouble. I cannot get a police clearance.
Q: During the year 2000 just before you left, what was your impression of the human rights situation?
A: There's no political rights at all in the country. As for me, I was released from the jail and I had no right to meet with other people, other old friends who came out from jail.
Q: How did people find out information about politics?
A: Most of the news, we get from the broadcasting service like BBC, VOA or RFA. And in Rangoon, some of the news we can get from the news release from the NLD party.
Q: Did you ever see public political things like stickers, posters or graffiti?
A: Very rare. Because many people are very scared of the government. You cannot believe your friends because most people are informers, they inform to the military agents because they want to get opportunity. So if you're thinking about like that, and discuss with my friend, "Oh, I want to sticker something to protest the government," he is an informer and I will be arrested. It is very rare, but many students of the next generation try it, many times. But they cannot make assembly, [gather] many people. Because the government has a very high investment in the informers. Very hard.
Q: What about 9/9/99?
A: Four nines, many people tried it. But not too much. The NLD supported many students. But...
Q: What is your impression about recent events within the SPDC?
A: I don't think [it is changing] because all of those soldiers are the same. One person's gone, another person comes. In my country, the military authorities, they don't like the democracy, because they don't like complaints. If Gen. Khin Nyunt is gone, another person comes the same like that. They can't change it.
I think that in America, if a person goes to jail it is a problem, but not such a big problem. But in Burma, if a person gets in the jail, his life is worse than the death. Here you can get enough food, personal hygiene. In Burma you cannot. I felt the nightmare during prison life, up to today, even though it was three years ago, I have these nightmares even now. Sometimes when I sleep I get a very bad dream. The reason why I was detained in jail. Then I wake up and I am free, I am on Guam. This happened so many times. It's maybe broken my brain while I was in jail. I tried to fix my brain while I was in jail. I know about Min Ko Naing, I think he's suffered. Because very isolated. More than me. I know that place where he was detained. Very isolated. You cannot hear the human voice. Nothing. Very silent. Only he can speak with his friend once a month. His parents are very poor and he has no relatives, so he cannot see his parents or family. No more than maybe once every four or five months.
When I was detained in Myingyan for three months [without seeing my parents] then I could hardly speak with them when they arrived, as if I don't know how to speak in the Burmese language, my mother language. Because in the small cell I was singing or muttering something, so the staff would beat me for talking in the room. So I cannot make voice, so I became silent all the time. So I could not speak when I saw my parents. Oh, my father was very sad to see me, with my shackles like a slave. After they removed my shackles, for three or four months I could not walk straightly. The black came off after one month, then the skin became recovered.
I had to sleep on the cement, no mat, only blanket. They gave me only two blankets, very thin. I requested to the jail authorities, if I can get some blankets from my parents, but they don't allow it, because you can try to escape with the blankets, to make a rope. So I slept on the cement floor, six, seven years, so now I have pains in the joints, when the weather is cold I feel very bad. I feel like I am old. I didn't get the medical care in jail, nothing. But I am lucky. The injections they gave me only once. Many people they line up like that [for mass injections]. They had records in the jail that maybe ten or fifteen people already had the HIV or AIDS, they first inject the AIDS persons and then the political prisoners.
One of the prisoners who was an elected Member of Parliament, U Hla Than, he died of tuberculosis and the governor [of the prison] released the news that he had died of AIDS. I think he got the HIV because of those injections -- for tuberculosis -- in the jail. They gave him a lot of injections. But they claimed that he got the HIV infection from prostitutes or someplace.
The military ordered the jail authorities that prisoners are not allowed to die in the jail, because they don't want the international pressure. They ordered the jail authorities to bring those prisoners to the hospital. They want to release the news that the prisoners died despite them giving them the good, proper treatment in the hospital. They release the news like this. But it's a bad reason.
After jail, I wanted to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But if I went to see her, they would take at least five to six photographs of me. So if I went to her, I was sure to be arrested. And as there is no law, they wouldn't release me soon. The first time, it took seven years. She wants to meet all political prisoners, ex-prisoners, but I could not go to see her.