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Nov 2, 2009 (DVB), The Obama administration has a mountain to climb in order to secure the release of political prisoners in Burma, with a military government aggressively preparing for the country's first elections in 20 years.
In recent weeks the number of political prisoners in Burma has risen following a crackdown on opposition groups. DVB interviewed former political prisoner Myo Yan Naung Thein, who was released in September after two years in prison. He spoke about life behind bars and the ongoing struggle that opposition groups in Burma face.
"On the afternoon of 15 December 2007, while I was on the phone to my mum at a shop in Rangoon, two men grabbed me by the hands. They were very strong. They had tattoos and looked like criminals. I shouted out because I thought that they had kidnapped me by mistake. Then one of them grabbed me by the throat, put his hand over my mouth, and pushed me into a taxi. They hooded me, and I was forced to lie down in the taxi. One of them sat on top of me.
"I don't know where they took me because I was hooded, but as soon as I got there, they started to kick and punch me. They forced me to kneel on all fours like a dog, and one of them sat on my back. Those men were really violent and rude to me.
"Later I found out that the people who took me were from Military Affairs Security. They asked me about Min Ko Naing [88 Generation Students' leader], and other activists. Finally I realized I was in the Interrogation Center. They tortured me very brutally. My hands were tied behind my back, they kicked and punched me. They locked me in a dark, wet room with no windows. I didn't know whether it was day or night.
"I was sent to Insein annex prison [in Rangoon] and put in a cell. One of my legs was deteriorating day by day. I had already suffered from a neurological condition once in 1991, so I informed prison authorities that I couldn't move because of nerve damage, but they didn't care.
"A prison medic came and saw me but he was a normal doctor, not a neuro-specialist, so I requested to see a neuro-specialist but they ignored me. Then the nerve damage got so bad I couldn't move my legs at all. My mother sent request letters to the prison director many times, and the exile media also reported my case. Finally I got a chance to see a neuro-pecialist, and he told me my hands were also affected.
"I was transferred to Sandoway prison [in Burma's western Arakan state] after sentencing. I actually had an appointment with a doctor at Rangoon hospital at the time, but they sent me to Thandwe prison anyway. They transferred me there because it is really far away from home and very cold, and because they thought it would help my health!
"Four of us were transferred to Sandoway prison. We were all handcuffed. They put everyone in iron shackles except me; they carried me because I couldn't walk. They didn't allow me to urinate during the journey to the prison, which took the whole night. It was so hard on me. There are 10 political prisoners in Sandoway prison. Now two were released, and the others were not. If they are honest, they will have to release all political prisoners because they are talking about national reconciliation. Ko Win Maw, the guitarist from the band Shwe Thansin, is in bad health and suffers from asthma. At night, sometimes he can't breathe properly and then he almost falls unconscious. There are no medics, no doctors, and no proper medical care.
"When we were released [on 19 September] we were released under section 401, which means we will have go back to prison and serve the remainder of our sentences if we are arrested again for political activities. I feel nothing [positive about the release] because I was close to completing my sentence. And now I can't stand up or walk. I can only walk if I have a person on either side to help me.
"We [activists] sacrificed a lot, but I will have to carry on until we get democracy in Burma. As a student, I didn't really know about politics. I only knew that the military government is wrong. So I rebelled and demonstrated against the military government. Their rule is totally wrong for Burma.
"After we were imprisoned, we learned more and more about the injustices carried out by the military government, and that strengthened my beliefs even more. So who will keep fighting if we don't? We have to carry on."