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KHRG REPORT #95-28
- Subject: KHRG REPORT #95-28
- From: smith@xxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 10 Aug 1995 18:50:00
[Note: This report has been posted by KHRG, not by A. Smith.
Please ignore any reference to A. Smith in the message header.]
LIFE AS A CRIMINAL PRISONER
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
August 2, 1995 / KHRG #95-28
[SOME DETAILS ARE REPLACED WITH 'XXXX' FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION]
Escaped convict "Maung Aung Shwe" (not his real name) arrived
in a Mon camp in February 1995 after escaping a forced labour
camp on the Ye-Tavoy railway. His story gives some insight into
the life and thoughts of a criminal prisoner in Burma. Some names
and details of his story have been omitted to protect the people
NAME: "Maung Aung Shwe" SEX: M AGE: 26 Burman Buddhist
ADDRESS: Rangoon INTERVIEWED: 7/6/95
I am from a big family - we are 8 brothers and sisters. I am
in the middle. All are single. I was a 10th standard student.
We went to Myitkyina [Kachin State] and Pakant to look for jade.
We went happily and legally. One day, we were drinking and eating
at a small shop. A policeman came and demanded money from my
brother, but my brother said "I don't want to deal with the police.
Don't ask for money. Go away." A quarrel broke out between
my brother and the policeman. The policeman started swinging
a stool. I was hit on my head, and I stabbed the policeman in
the belly with a fork. I went back to my house, and then I went
to the hospital and got 7 stitches on my head. My brother stayed
with the policeman, took care of him and took him to the hospital.
I went into hiding in Mandalay. After 26 days, the policeman
died. I returned home to Rangoon to see my mother. I arrived
home at 1 p.m. I sent someone to buy a packet of cigarettes while
my mother slept and I waited upstairs. Then 12 policeman in civilian
clothes came in, went upstairs, broke the door of my room and
arrested me. I was amazed at how they caught me. My mother was
asleep downstairs, and she didn't even notice them coming in.
They took me to the police station, beat me and asked me many
questions. My whole body was hurting, especially my stomach.
I couldn't lie down and I couldn't sleep well because of the
pain. It was difficult to urinate for about 12 days. They made
me "ride the motorcycle" [a standard SLORC torture - the victim
is forced to squat on the floor for extended periods, pretend
he's riding a motorcycle and make motorcycle noises, while the
officer gives commands like "Turn left! Stop!" The victim has
to make honking noises when his ear is pulled. Meanwhile, he
is constantly being beaten with clubs]. They blindfolded me and
beat me. They made me stand on needles. The police beat me continuously
for 12 days. They ordered me to give them the murder weapon,
but I couldn't give them the fork. They asked questions about
the fork. I was kept for a month in a special room, then I was
returned to the police station cell for 14 days. Then they sent
me to court. It was a civilian court. I explained the truth
about what had happened. The only problem was that I couldn't
show them the fork. The judge said I was trying to hide the evidence
exhibit. I was sentenced under Article 201, and also for causing
death. That was in March 1993. They sent me to Insein Jail.
I was there for 1 year and 3 months. In jail we had to work,
but if you bribed them then they allowed you not to work for a
few days. Some paid 900 Kyats to get 14 days rest. Some gave
1,500 Kyats for several months at a time. Those who couldn't
pay were called in the morning and given duties like cleaning
the compound, cleaning the toilets, working in the kitchen, etc.
The food was not good but it was enough. Every morning yellow-bean
soup and every evening vegetable soup, but without seasoning.
It didn't taste good. Pork or fish once a week.
I was in a huge room separate from the main building. About 120
prisoners stayed there, sometimes fewer, but always at least 90.
When there were 120, we only got a very small space to sleep.
My family came once a week. They gave money to the prison officers
and sent food. I could speak to them, but there were guards around.
We weren't allowed to write letters but I did it secretly. I
paid money to borrow books. If prisoners fought each other, the
guards put them in the dark room, the hot room or a room filled
with water. I found some prisoners stabbed with a sharpened iron
bar. I don't know how that quarrel started. Iron bars were easy
to get in the jail. I also heard that some prisoners killed themselves.
The youngest prisoner was 12 years old. The oldest was about
80. There are many old prisoners. Usually, murder was 5 years.
Premeditated murder and rape could be 15 to 20 years. An accident
causing death is at least 1 or 2 years. A torturer could get
3 or 4 years, and a car accident 1 or 2 years.
After 15 months they took me to Hlegu Township, on the Rangoon-Mandalay
highway project. We dug and carried the ground. We wore chains.
We had to wear them day and night. At forced labour places,
rapists have to wear the chains for 1 year, and murder, robbery
and burglary cases for 6 months. Villagers were also working
on the road, but prisoners and villagers worked separately. The
prison authorities guarded us, but soldiers and police guarded
us too. There were Lon Htein [riot police] from Pegu, and soldiers
from #217 Battalion, #11 Division. They watched us from behind.
We were always working. Prisoners who worked slowly or got tired
quickly got beaten and kicked. It was hard work to carry stones
and dirt up the bank. Once there was a dispute and the guard
hit me twice with a stick, on the shoulders and the back. If
a prisoner couldn't pay them, they beat him too much, so I gave
them 2,500 Kyats. If prisoners fought each other they were beaten
severely, and sometimes even put in a cell or put in stocks in
a building in the camp. Some had to stay in the stocks for 15
days, or a maximum of one month. The prisoners slept in a barracks
that was built for us before we arrived. There were about 250
prisoners in one barrack. From Insein Jail, there were 250 of
us on the highway, but there were also 200 more prisoners working
at farms nearby. We had half a day's rest each week on Sunday
morning, and I had to work at the vegetable farm then. I was
there in 1994, I don't remember which months.
I was there for 2 months, then they sent me to the prisoner camp
at Thaton. We had to crush stones in a quarry, at Yin Ne Ain
in Thaton Township. In front of our camp was a plain with many
huge stones laying on the ground. We worked in chains. The prison
authorities administered the camp. They had rifles. There were
only prisoners working there. Some died because of explosions,
and rocks hit them. Some died because of disease, and they couldn't
get to the hospital in time. During the time I was there about
17 or 18 died, mostly on the way to the hospital [his statement
implies that 17 or 18 died while he was at the quarry, though
it is possible he meant that 17 or 18 died during the whole time
he did forced labour outside the prison]. We had a "medic".
He was chosen from among the prisoners. If a prisoner could give
money to the medic, he could rest. According to the rules the
authorities should pay the prisoners 10 Kyats per month, but they
never do. They just gave the prisoners some cheroots and MSG
[for cooking]. I worked there for 6 months [from the rest of
his testimony, it appears that it was actually only 3 months].
Then I was moved to another place with some other prisoners.
I was sent to Ko-Mine ["9-mile", on the Ye-Tavoy railway] railway
camp. I was there for more than 4 months. I was promoted to
Guard. My duty was to make sure that no prisoners escaped. I
also had to dig and level the ground, and cut into the hillside.
Sometimes we had to clear the ground for the railway, and sometimes
we had to clear it to make space for more prisoners to stay.
We started at 6 a.m. We had a lunch break between noon and 1
p.m., and we finished at 5 p.m. I was still in chains for 1 month,
then they freed me from the chains. [His 6 months wearing chains
at forced labour were up - murder cases have to wear the chains
at forced labour for 6 months, as he said above.] Until your
time is due, they never take off the chains. In some cases, a
prisoner's time to wear chains is over but the authorities don't
receive the order from above, so they still cannot take off the
chains. The work at the railway was a bit harder than at the
other places. We were surrounded by 3 lines of guards. There
was a line of barbed wire, then sharpened bamboo stakes and traps.
Then behind those, the police were guarding, and then the soldiers.
The prison authorities usually stayed in their barracks outside
the fences. They arrested people and demanded money, and then
with that money they hired women. The soldiers were from 343
Battalion. At the other side of Ko-Mine bridge, it was 406 Battalion.
There were 350 prisoners in the camp from many jails: Sittwe [Arakan
State], Mandalay, Myaung Mya [Irrawaddy Delta], Bassein [Irrawaddy
Delta], Moulmein [Mon State], etc. There were 3 prisoners' barracks
for 350 prisoners. The latrines were just inside the fences,
out the back door of the barracks. At night there were sentries
near the toilets - we had to announce ourselves with our prisoner
number, name and what we wanted to do. Twice a day we got rice,
less than one milktin full [very little], and banana stem and
salt in water which was not boiled, just hot. There was no clinic
in the camp, only in the village [9-Mile village, nearby]. We
wore white shirts and white longyis [prison uniform, of very coarse
There were villagers there too, doing the same work as us: digging
and clearing. Our work was harder, but theirs was also hard and
they had to bring their own food as well. They also were guarded.
Some of them were raped, girls aged 12, 13, 16 and 18. The officer
who raped them was [Capt.] Nyi Nyi from 343 Battalion. The girls
were from Han Kan, Thaung Byin, and villages just south of Ye.
I heard about some of these cases, and some I saw. He called
the girls while they were working along the railway in the daytime.
When I was going to the toilets, I saw one. She didn't shout
because they had guns. They threatened her, and then after they
I saw people who were beaten. Me, I was beaten on my head for
fighting. Most of the guards were drunk, so they beat and kicked
us all over. Sometimes they forced us to lie down and beat and
kicked us from above. Sometimes they jumped up and down on us.
After we were beaten, when the working period was over we went
to the clinic in the nearby village to get medicine. Then the
next day when they counted the prisoners we could ask for lighter
work if we were injured. I couldn't work after that. They allowed
me to work slowly, but not too slowly. If I was too slow they
would beat me, so I kept working. It was quite difficult to move
after the beating, especially in my waist. Some were beaten badly
and died later. They couldn't be cured. I knew 3 of them.
4 died of beatings altogether. The day I left, one died of cholera.
He was sent to the clinic but his body already smelled bad, so
they put him in a car for the hospital but when it started moving,
he died. Win Naing from Myaung Mya died because of lack of food.
He was 22 or 23. He died on the way to the clinic, after he
was badly beaten. Kyaw Kyaw died of disease. He was 19. Also,
Zaw Oo. In the past he was a Corporal in the Army. He tried
to escape and the soldiers shot him. He was around 20 years old.
[He was in jail for attempted desertion.] Another one tried
to escape and the soldiers shot him too, but I don't remember
his name. He was from Bassein and used narcotic drugs. His sentence
was 5 years.
My family came to visit me twice at the railway. They could give
money for me, but they had spent a lot on me already. My father
is a XXXX for the Railway Corporation, and my mother makes
food and sells it. We are 8 children, but only 2 are working.
I escaped from Ko-Mine camp in February . I heard that
some people in villages would help people on the way. The man
who helped me was xxxx [some details of his escape are omitted
in order not to damage the chances of future escape attempts].
That day I didn't go to work. I pretended to be sick and asked
permission to stay. That day there were only 2 policemen near
our barracks, and they were both my friends. One of them left
to go to send a sick prisoner to the hospital - along the way,
the sick man died. So xxxx was left alone. We made a trick,
and told him "The Intelligence Officer wants to see you". He
left, and we took our chance. We crossed the fences. We went
over the barbed wire, then we cut the woven bamboo fence with
a knife. Then we crawled through the fence. We hurt ourselves
doing that. We went to xxxx area, then we crossed the mountains.
Now I want to go to Bangkok and I want to contact my parents.
My parents don't know I've escaped. I am very afraid to go back
- [END OF REPORT] -