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THE DEATH OF MR. LEO NICHOLS
The Following article appeared in Britain's 'Ovserver' last Sunday. The
article talks about the death of Mr. James Leander Nichols, based on the
article written by Moe Aye, a former political prisoner who is now working
with the All Burma Students'Democratic Front (ABSDF).
YELLOW sports shirt is the proof that honorary consul Leo Nichols died
because of the cruelty of his Burmese jailers.
The man who for years acted as the link between the Burmese opposition
and the outside world was hounded to his death by the secret police, who
deprived him of sleep and medication during interrogations that sometimes
went on all night.
The first witness account by another prisoner of his final days confirms
that his prison treatment led to his death. The Burmese official line was
that he died of a stroke.
His son, Bill Nichols, who lives in West Australia, said he was
determined to take leaders of the ruling junta to the bar of international
`I'm trying to establish which court might have jurisdiction,' he said.
`I have contacted human-rights lawyers in Australia and New York. We've got
to make this stick. They didn't just do it to my father. They did it to
thousands of others.'
A host of circumstantial details substantiates the eye-witness account of
Moe Aye, a former political prisoner who served the last year of his
seven-year sentence at Insein prison in Rangoon when Nichols was held
there. He now works with the All Burma Students' Democratic Front.
But the clincher is the yellow shirt. Bill Nichols has at home a
photograph of his father wearing it in death `before we dressed him in a
suit for his burial'.
Leo Nichols, an Anglo-Burmese businessman, was honorary consul for Norway
and Denmark. After his death they demanded an independent autopsy.
Nichols had heart disease and diabetes. In prison he developed dysentery.
He had been sentenced to three years with hard labour for the illegal
possession of two fax machines and a telephone switchboard.
But his real crime was his friendship with, and support for, the elected
pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose activities have been greatly
circumscribed by the authorities.
According to Moy Aye's written account, Nichols was wearing the yellow
sports shirt and a regulation white sarong when he arrived at Insein in the
truck that carried the prison rice pots one evening in May 1996.
The blue hood pulled over his head was removed when he was taken to the
cells. He was uncomfortable in the sarong which barely covered his knees _
Nichols later said it had been given to him by another prisoner.
`He was clearly shocked and frightened,' Moe Aye recalled.
Nichols told an English-speaking prisoner in the next cell that he had
been interrogated for six consecutive days. All his money, the proceeds of
a recent land sale, had been confiscated.
He had not been beaten but was forced to sit in the poun-san position _
cross-legged with hands on his knees, back straight and head bowed _ for a
long time. This was an unusual punishment even for notable political
`We concluded that the military junta had shown their extreme hatred of
him,' says Moe Aye.
The chief warden denied Nichols any medication, apparently on orders from
the secret police.
Nichols had to stand up for hours during interrogations and was not
allowed to walk around to lessen his stiffness and pain.
A warder told the prisoners he had heard some officers discussing how to
break down Nichols' morale and the best ways to give him a `lesson' and
Another said Major Soe Nyunt of the Ministry of Internal Security had
ordered his men to `be tough on him no matter who he is'.
Moe Aye recalled: `[Nichols] confided in us that he was very afraid of
the night time, the time when he was taken away for questioning. Trembling,
he said: ``I don't know if I can go through this any longer. I can't take
this any more.'' '
The dysentery added to Nichols' misery but he was given nothing with
which to clean himself.
`It was a great discomfort and embarrassment for him,' Moe Aye said.
The prisoners lent him bits of old garments. One temporarily exchanged his
prison sarong with him, another the yellow sports shirt, so that they could
be washed. A warder was persuaded to turn a blind eye to a piece of
One day he was taken away in the truck, the hood over his head, and did
not return for four days.
`His legs were swollen and his face was all puffed up,' Moe Aye added.
The Security Ministry repeatedly asked his opinions about the possible
actions of the European Union over Burma and about Suu Kyi's personal life.
A few days later he was taken away again. By now he had acute dysentery,
was vomiting and suffering from dizziness. His legs were swollen and he
couldn't walk properly.
`He said a few farewell words to his cell neighbours as if he was going
away for good,' Moe Aye said. `We never saw him again.'
He had told the English-speaking prisoner: `I'll lie down on the floor if
they force me to stand to ask questions this time. I can't take this any
more . . .
`I think I'll be lucky if I make it back here one more time. If I can't
make it back, please tell everyone here for me that I owe them for their
A Norwegian Foreign Office spokesman, Ingvard Havnen, said: `This a
convincing account, and very much in line with our own conclusions. '
He conceded that pressure on the Burmese authorities `had not led to very
much'. But he added: `We will look at every possibility to cast light on
what really happened.'