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A group of former political prisoners held a press conference for the first time on Wednesday when they revealed how they were subjected to torture in Insein prison 23 years ago.
The former inmates said they were speaking out to commemorate the date, 25 September 1990, when Burmese security forces cracked down on Buddhist monks at Shwetaung Monastery in Rangoon’s Mingalar Taungnyunt township.
Speaking to assembled media, each former prisoner recounted personal experiences, most of which were centred around their protest in prison when the military regime refused to hand over power to the National League for Democracy four months after the opposition party’s election victory.
Thet Tin, who was incarcerated on “Death Row”, said he was repeatedly clubbed on the back of his head while shackled. He told journalists he attempted to block the attack with his left hand, which was left permanently crooked as a result. He said the officers would not stop beating him until he complied by speaking “like a woman” for their amusement.
“They told me to cry, ‘I’m afraid! I’m afraid!’ and ordered me to speak in a woman’s voice, addressing myself in the feminine form shin [as opposed to bya for males],” said Thet Tin.
Another jailed activist, who was not identified by name, said, “The prison guards beat my all over my body – on the head, arms, legs and the back. I was blindfolded and bumped into the wall with my head – I passed out.”
Another former death row inmate, Myint Sein, described how they were also subjected to both physical and psychological torture.
“Around 6am in the morning, they started blaring traditional music at us, then dragged us from our cells,” he said. “They covered our heads with bags and took turns beating us up. Sometimes it didn’t stop until the evening and we were not given any food or water.”
Myint Sein said that officers, possibly from military intelligence, would appear and insist that the political activists dress like women and use the feminine form of address when responding to orders.
He said the guards used to play the traditional Burmese song, “Sar-U” very loudly when torture was taking place. Some inmates believed it was to mask the cries of prisoners being beaten; others said it was a psychological torture aimed at instilling fear every time they heard that tune.
Other well-known political activists at the press conference who were involved in the 1990 prison protest were Ko Yu and Naing Aung, and writers Thaw Ka and Moe Thu.