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Burma – Conversation with ‘Man of Steel’


Mizzima News

Thursday, 25 September 2008 13:49

Mizzima reporter Phanida interviewed the man who stepped out of prison in prison uniform, who refused to sign the bond pledging not to be involved in politics, who refused to be released on grounds of age and poor health, who wanted to be released only on the ground he deserved to be released, a person who was imprisoned for over 19 years, on his opinion on the media, politics and his personal feelings.

Question: How are you?

Answer: I’m fine and feeling well. But I feel my health has deteriorated due to old age. Sometimes I feel pain in my surgical wound. The prison doctor said that I need eye surgery. But I refused eye treatment because they wanted to release me for treatment outside on their frail-aged-blind-disabled prisoners’ scheme. But I must undergo this surgery now.

Question: How do you view your release?

U Win Tin
U Win Tin
Answer: I deserve to be released as I had to overstay in prison over and above my prison term. In fact, I can sue them, because I was sentenced to 20 years’ in prison, according to the prison regulation and manual, I should have been released 4-5 years ago after serving 16 years. So, yesterday I didn’t accept the manner of their releasing me, and stepped out of prison in prison clothes in protest.

I could not accept releasing me under section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (parole) after putting me in prison longer than I should have stayed. I could not accept it. Because prisoners can enjoy three months remission from every one year of prison term under the jail manual. Thus I ought to have been released after serving 16 years on my 20-year prison term. But I had to stay 19 years and 3 months. I was released in overdue time after serving my full prison term. But they wanted to release me under their scheme. I argued with them on this point the whole of yesterday.

They don’t need to give me parole and remission since I have served the full term and more. I want to be released as a political prisoner. Our demands are releasing all political prisoners, convening parliament, and engaging in dialogue. So I told them I want to be released as a political prisoner in accordance with one of our demands. I told them I would not step out of prison if you release me on parole, I will step out of prison in prison clothes without taking any of my belongings in protest if you don’t agree with my term. And then I wore the prison uniform from 6 am to 4 pm without having a bath and a meal. But I washed these clothes this morning and will wear it frequently.

Question: How do you view the media now?

Answer: The media’s work needs dedication, concentration and it is a time consuming work suitable only for young people. I mean I worked in the media when I was just 19, worked daily for over 15 hours. Sometimes I worked from 7 a.m. to midnight. Now I find myself still eager to work in this profession when you asked me this question as I started this work when I was so young. But I think I cannot do this work anymore because of my old age. I’ll write articles occasionally. Our era is over and I encourage you and your generation to continue this work.

Question: What did you hear about the situation outside when you were in prison?

Answer: I was kept in solitary confinement all the time in prison for 13 years and 3 months. I had only occasional secret conversations with my fellow inmates for just about 1-2 minutes each time. But I was not afraid and didn’t care. I asked about the political situation outside when someone came to meet me during prison interviews. I knew about it to the extent these persons could talk about at prison interviews. Later I could learn more about the political situation when I could read some state-run newspapers and journals since a year ago. I heard about the referendum through these periodicals. The people of your age could not have experienced the referendum before. We had had such experience two times. In 1974, they held a referendum. They did as they wished to as usual, it’s not strange. Because we could not hope being able to express our free will at the referendums held under the aegis of the military regime. We must do what they order us to do. We cannot accept this referendum in both form and content. Because we cannot accept the principle of military supremacy and military machinery in this constitution as they said, ‘the military shall take the leading role in Burmese politics’. So we cannot accept this constitution.

Question: Please tell me about some of your significant experience in prison?

Answer: There was no so such significant experience. As I said before, I was kept in solitary confinement for nearly 20 years. I was allowed to stay outside my cell for about 2-3 hours a day only after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma. My daily routine was boring, having meals, napping in the daytime and sleeping at night. There’s no significant life inside prison. But I could read books and articles. That’s all.

Question: How do you feel the change outside?

Answer: Yes, I see significant change, I feel totally changed. I don’t know something and I can’t keep up with something. For instance, I’ve never seen the telephone on which I am talking with you. There were no mobile phones when I was arrested. Let alone, overseas calls, even for a local call in Rangoon, we had to talk loudly on the phone. All the technology, stuff, buildings have changed greatly. And also, the lifestyle, clothes, poverty and riches of the people have changed dramatically.

But one thing remains unchanged; it is the military regime, the machinery of military dictatorship. The people have to do as they order, manipulate, dictate and restrict. I felt the whole of Burma seems to be a big prison before. And then I myself was put in prison. Even after 20 years, our country is still plagued by this machinery of military dictatorship. There’s no change before and after 1988. In brief, there’s no change in this regard.

Question: What will be your future plan and political aim?

Answer: I don’t’ have much to say about my political aims. As you know, I am a journalist and I worked only as a journalist. I worked in NLD for just 9 months. So I am a novice in politics. After spending 19 years in prison, I don’t understand much about it too. But I would like to say only one thing. Throughout the time, when I was in prison and outside the prison, the democracy we had is not genuine democracy, just the democracy in uniform, democracy given by the military. We don’t want this sort of democracy, democracy with an ogre’s face. We want democracy with a human face. I must engage in politics anyway. I must do as much as I can to achieve restoration and promotion of democracy to some extent.

Question: How do you feel after being released?

Answer: I don’t feel much. In brief and in summary, many died in prison, NLD members, U Thawka, U Tin Maung Win and student Maung Maung Lay. After that, U Kyaw Min and Com. U Tin Shwe died of poor health due to their prison life soon after being released. Similarly many from other organizations died too, for instance, U Khin Maung Myint. All of their lives were shattered and ruined. They suffered a lot. They did much for this cause. They are still suffering for it, for instance, Min Ko Naing and Zarganar. Now they are in prison again. I could not meet them. Many died and many suffered a lot. And some are still struggling for our cause. I don’t see them being left in the prison. I’m feeling as if I am still in prison with them who are not yet released though I am outside the prison now.

Question: Don’t you want to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

Answer: I think you must talk of releasing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She hasn’t yet been released and I cannot meet her yet. I must meet her. On meeting her, there will be two parts, first politics and another personal. I must pay homage to such a person who is so smart and brilliant, and who sacrificed so much. I must see her in these two ways.

Question: How do you view press freedom at home and abroad? What are the differences with other countries?

Answer: It’s been over 40 years without freedom. We can see many articles in journals but they are just black on white paper. As for the writers, there’s no freedom.

There are many differences in terns of press freedom with other countries. Even in Cambodia, there are many English papers. In Burma, we have only one state-run English paper. The journalists can write freely in Africa, South America and Europe. Our country is at the lowest level in this regard. I don’t have sympathy and am not showing respect to those who are running these papers. But their writings are funny. They have to do as dictated. Even the editor cannot write grammatically correct Burmese. I was in this trade too and had to do as dictated like them. But when they told me to put something on the front page, I put it on the back page. In short, first their form is quite wrong, and secondly the content is funny and ridiculous. The third is lack of effort and struggle.

Question: What would you like to say to media persons and pro-democracy activists?

Answer: I have no authority anymore to talk about the media. At my age, I cannot do what the young can do. And I cannot see as the young see. So I don’t want to say anything good or bad in this regard. But I’d like to say one thing which is the media is an essential part of a country. Frankly, the media is the lifeline in Burmese history. The journals and magazines are very important for the country. The journalists are highly responsible in terns of media ethics, spirit and technicality. So I’d like to say keep struggling and do as much as you can.

As for those who are struggling for democracy, I’d like to say I’m just a novice in the political field. I was in politics for just 9 months so I’m inexperienced in comparison with other people. I’d like to say one thing which is the machinery of military dictatorship is still running over us like a steamroller. Thus all the politicians need to unite and cooperate. They must do the same work objectively with like minded people through coordination. They must work separately the work on which they have differences. I request all of them to work together hand in hand in unity with the aim of achieving democracy.

Source : www.mizzima.com

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