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BP: BURMA: The ruling military ju
- Subject: BP: BURMA: The ruling military ju
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 24 May 1998 18:00:00
Bangkok Post May 24, 1998
They'll never learn
BURMA: The ruling military junta is
punishing student democracy activists
by denying them an education.
One may find it hard to believe that there is a country where a
student is imprisoned for 15 years for writing the history of a
student movement while murderers, rapists and drug traffickers
are handed sentences as light as one to seven years. But such a
country does exist. It's called Burma - a nation of despots run by
the military, where human rights violations are at a record high.
Ko Aung Htun, a former Rangoon Institute of Technology
student and Central Executive Committee member of the
All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), was
arrested in January and sentenced to 15 years for compiling The
History of the Burmese Students Movement, his second time
in prison under the junta. His act was described as "terrorism" by
the junta. The first time he was taken into custody was in
November 1990; he was jailed for five years for his involvement
in the ABFSU. In October 1991, he was transferred from Insein
to Tharayawadi prison. He was kept in solitary confinement for a
long period of time and as a result he now suffers from asthma.
He was released in 1994.
There are many other students like Ko Aung Htun who have
been sent to prison more than once. One of them is Min Ko
Naing, the chairman of the ABFSU. Min Ko Naing has been in
solitary confinement for more than nine years. He now suffers
from tuberculosis and asthma due to the conditions of his
Just after the State Peace and Development Council, the former
State Law and Order Restoration Council, claimed it would
re-open all universities, colleges and educational institutes it
conducted a major crackdown on student activists. In a press
conference on March 1, the junta accused activists of
involvement in terrorist activities and membership in underground
In reality, some of them were arrested because they assisted Ko
Aung Htun with the book. They were given prison terms of
seven to 10 years.
They are Ko Khun Sai, a former Medical student, prominent
student leader at U Thant's funeral riot in 1974 and a former
political prisoner from 1989 to 1993; Soe Lwin, who served on
the Central Executive Committee of the All-Burma Basic
Educational Students Union and a political prisoner from 1990 to
1993; Dr Maung Maung Kyaw, a lawyer and former political
prisoner from 1989 to 1992; U Thant Ban, a lawyer and former
political prisoner from 1991 to 1995; Ms Su Su Win; and Ms
Khin Moe Aye.
Others were arrested because they tried to pass documents to
then UN special envoy (now general secretary) Kofi Annan.
Why, for the junta, is compiling a book an act of terrorism? Are
those who love freedom of expression and hate dictatorships
At the press conference, Col Kyaw Thein said that Ko Aung
Htun is a communist because he has been friendly with former
communists. But isn't the SPDC the closest friend of communist
China in Southeast Asia? In fact, the book documents the
student movement of July 7, 1962.
The accounts contained in the book of U Thant's funeral riot and
photographs of the 1988 uprising with file photos are shameful to
the Burmese military rulers. Ko Aung Htun met the people who
participated in the movements and asked them what really
If U Ne Win and the former generals would consent to
questioning, Ko Aung Htun would gladly ask them who really
ordered the destruction of the Students Union Building on July 7,
1962. He would also ask them why they did not pay respect to
U Thant, the former UN secretary general, when his body was
flown back from New York, and accord him the state funeral he
rightly deserved. Was U Thant a communist, too?
The authorities continue to oppress students both inside and
outside the prison. The MIS (Military Intelligent Service) is
re-interrogating the students in prison, especially those who are
close to completing their terms. Here are some of the questions
the MIS officers are asking:
1. What will you do after you are released from prison?
2. Will you continue to be involved in politics?
3. Will you try to meet with Daw Su [Aung San Suu Kyi] after
4. Do you think Daw Su could solve the country's problems?
5. What do you think of the name change, from Slorc to SPDC?
These interrogations have angered and worried the parents of
these students. They fear their sons and daughters, whose
prisons terms are nearly up, may be kept in jail even longer
should they fail to answer the questionnaire "correctly", just as U
Win Tin was for "violating prison rules".
In November 1995, U Win Tin of the National League for
Democracy, Ko Myo Myint Nyein (former head of information
for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi), and other political prisoners were
accused of violating prison rules. Although they denied the
accusations, all were sentenced to seven years in jail in March
1996. At that time, Ko Myo Myint Nyein and the others were
just three weeks away from gaining their freedom.
Sometimes the MIS re-interrogates prominent activists in prison,
explaining that the junta leaders want to know their opinions.
But, in reality, it is a test to find out whether they still hold strong
In September 1994, while interrogating a student who led the
December 1991 demonstration at Rangoon University, the
authorities told him that he would be held in prison as long as the
junta remains in power. His crime: criticising U Ne Win and the
SPDC, and demanding the creation of a student union to protect
Students and political prisoners are regularly transferred to
prisons far from home to make it difficult for their friends and
loved ones to visit them. Requests by families to have them serve
their terms closer to home have been turned down by the
authorities who explain that "it is not our fault that they got
involved in politics."
At the same time, the township MIS go through the lists of
students who will be returning to classes if and when the
universities are re-opened. They want to know if they are related
to former political prisoners or to those students presently in
prison or in exile. In addition the township SPDC are seeking
guarantees from parents that their children will refrain from
joining any political movement.
The penalty is harsh for those who once delved into politics.
Former student political prisoners, university students, and even
high- and middle-school pupils have been barred from continuing
In January 1990, three 15-year-old high school students from a
satellite town were arrested and sentenced to three years
imprisonment for their involvement in the Student Union. Their
parents appealed to the military tribunal to release them because
of their age. As usual, the appeal was rejected. Three years later
when they got out of jail they were banned for life from
continuing their education.
Now these young men, 23 years old, have only an 8th standard
education. Does their learning have to stop there? They were not
criminals or terrorists, so why a punishment so harsh? Some of
them were only a year away from obtaining a degree before they
were arrested for their political beliefs. There are many like them
in Burma today. So what good is it when universities are
re-opened but so many are barred from going back to study?
It is never too late to learn, the saying goes. Unfortunately, as
long as democracy eludes this country, for Burma's students the
wait will continue. u Moe Aye is a former political prisoner
working with the All-Burma Students' Democratic Front.
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