Photo of Myo Min Zaw courtesy of Amnesty International
Progressive bloggers have been called to blog about Myanmar (Burma) today. Without hesitation, I knew I had to blog about Myo Min Zaw, a political prisoner I have thought about for years. I have prayed for him, cried over him. My small, local Amnesty International group has concentrated on him for a long, long time. I can remember when my daughter was in high school, I gave her a pen with Myo's name on it, to use during school. That was about 7 years ago. She is a grown woman now, and he is still in prison. Since then, the situation in Myanmar has worsened considerably, and Myo seems destined to serve his entire sentence of 52 years.
My Amnesty International group (#182) once received an official reply from a bureaucrat in Myanmar, one of the few (if any?) answers to our constant cards and letters. In this indignant correspondence, we were referred to as "street people"--which made us laugh. But the adamant tone was unmistakable. Myo wasn't going anywhere.
Myo Min Zaw, a Burmese student leader, is currently held in Mandalay prison.
In 1996, Myo Min Zaw was a second year student majoring in English in Hlaing College, Rangoon University. He became actively involved in the 1996 December students' demonstration. When all the universities were closed down, he and other students continuously met and discussed issues concerning politics, economics, education and student rights.From Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)
In 1998, he set up a study group, the Student and Youth United Front, of which he became the chairperson. It was at this time that he took the name Moe Hein Aung, as he was participating in preparing for the upcoming student movement and distributing statements by the SYUF.
Myo Min Zaw was the leader of the student demonstration that broke out at Hledan junction in Rangoon on 24 August 1998. The main slogans during the August and September demonstrations were as follows:
(1) We call for the immediate convening of parliament; (2) The people's government is our government (3) We don't want the military regime.
Before the three slogans were chosen, decisions were made to spread the movement all over Rangoon and to initiate demonstrations in other towns. Myo Min Zaw, therefore, was an important target for military intelligence (MI). He was arrested when MI finally tracked him down in September 1998.
He was taken to an interrogation center where he was reportedly tortured in many severe ways. At the news conference of the military government held in October 1998, Myo Min Zaw was accused of being the chief organizer of riots in cooperation with the All Burma Federation of Students' Union (ABFSU). He was sentenced to 38 years imprisonment without any representation. According to the Burmese Jail Manual, which was in force during the rule of British Colonial days, all prisoners have the right to parole for one third of the given prison term. However, no parole has been allowed and recently his sentence has been extended in 52 years.
Amnesty International (AI), a London base human rights watch group, considers him a prisoner of conscience as he was imprisoned for his non-violent political beliefs. We sincerely thank local AI groups around the world who are calling for the immediate release of Myo Min Zaw.
We also want the world to be aware that the current military government sentenced a student activist to 52 years imprisonment for the non-violent expression of his beliefs.
He was 27 years old at the time of his arrest; he is therefore about 36 now. In 2006, BurmaNet reported the following:
With student prisoner, Myo Min Zaw, suffering from a debilitating skin disease for over three months, which has led to decay of his fingers and nails, the exiled student union has urged authorities of Mandalay prison, in central Burma, to provide immediate treatment.For the rest of the story about Myo Min Zaw. Also, check out AI Manhattan's campaign on his behalf.
The Thailand based Foreign Affairs Committee of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions ABFSU (FAC) in a statement released on July 30 said Myo Min Zaw, who was sentenced to 52 years in prison in September 1998 for leading a student’s demonstration in Mandalay, has been suffering from a skin disease which has severely affected his fingers and nails.
“We are told that the skin disease was caused by unhygienic water, food, and toilet, the use of soap and lack of treatment by prison authorities”, said Min Naing, in-charge of the ABFSU (FAC) to Mizzima.