Nov 19, 2008 (DVB), Veteran journalist and senior National League for Democracy member Win Tin said activists would not give in to the Burmese regime's efforts to intimidate them, in an interview with DVB on Sunday.
Win Tin was released from prison in September after serving more than 19 years and immediately resumed his work with the pro-democracy movement.
DVB began by asking Win Tin's opinion on the 65-year prison sentences recently imposed on leaders of the 88 Generation Students group.
WT: "They are giving student leaders, youth activist leaders and young democracy leaders such long sentences, and it is supposed to be very frightening and shocking. But in my opinion, these are nothing to be afraid of. These student youth leaders will not be shaken, because they will stand up for themselves during the trial. They will go to jail. What it shows is that however much they try to intimidate them, they will not be afraid.
"If you go and speak to the student leaders now, they will not say a word about fear. Similarly, when I listened to their parents and families’ words in the media, they said nothing about being shocked. The families are surviving in defiance. For example, I heard them say things like, 'however many years they imprison them for, it could all be over tomorrow or the day after'. Similarly, when the media speaks to the public, no words about fear come out. This is a very good sign. We feel sorry about their imprisonment, but we are not surprised. We have to be fearless. They are trying to frighten us but we are not afraid. Fearlessness will overcome and defeat those who try to frighten us.
"If I can quote the words of an old woman, the mother of Zarganar, '[the authorities] are the ones who should be afraid; they will get the hatred and revulsion of the people'."
DVB: Do you think the authorities are trying to intimidate people in this way to stop them protesting against the 2010 elections?
WT: "The purpose of their intimidation is to frighten and alarm their victims and their families. But you can't say what the consequences will be. Their purpose is not only to frighten the families, it is also political. The reason is, for example, we want to hold a dialogue. This means we would need to meet face to face. However, they seem to be saying they do not want this. If this is how heavily they have punished the student leaders, it suggests that their attitudes on other matters such as dialogue and negotiation won’t improve."
DVB: What do you think about the possible visit of Ban Ki-moon to Burma?
WT: "In this kind of situation, world leaders need to think carefully because [the generals] are creating this atrocious situation and if people like Ban Ki-moon only come and go along with their plans, see what they are shown and listen to what they are told, the international leaders will end up supporting and giving their blessing to the military government. To put it clearly, this kind of person should not come.
"I once said that when people like Ban Ki-moon come to Burma, it is very good as it shows that world leaders are interested in our country’s political affairs. But, in this kind of dire situation, when world leaders visit it is like they are giving their blessing. We welcome their interest but we are not waiting here with open arms. We even want to say clearly to Mr. Ban Ki-moon; don’t come."
DVB: I heard that the US and UK ambassadors came to meet you. Can you tell us anything about that?
WT: "It is nothing new. I was told that the person from the US was an official from the US Senate budget committee. His main job is humanitarian assistance and aid. I explained to him about the current situation of our country and he told me that they are giving assistance through the government. We didn’t make much comment about it. As for the various levels of assistance, I only told him that help should get to the people who are really in trouble, not to the military government. He also explained a little bit about his work. I didn’t manage to say anything in particular as we only had 45 minutes. Then he held discussions with the NLD’s AIDS support group for about 15 minutes.
"As for the meeting with the UK ambassador, he told me that UK’s support for democracy in Burma is really growing. His prime minister, Mr Brown, recently said that support for democracy and the release of political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was very high. Moreover, the European Union are also holding discussions on how to give effective help to Burma’s democracy movement or pressure the military government. He said that Britain would take part in this decision-making process."
DVB: Did you meet them at the NLD headquarters or the embassy?
WT: "We have been doing all these things in the office, and the military government has often noted that people are going in and out of the office. Diplomats have been meeting with political parties and organisations; it is nothing new. They explained to us their political attitudes and we explained ours. I want people of other countries to understand. We are a legal political party. But when you see how much they know about how many times which embassy personnel have come to see us, you can understand how tight the situation is for a pro-democracy group like ours. "The military government is placing guards, intelligence agents and police everywhere. They say that diplomats’ cars keep coming to our compound, making it sound as if the diplomats are giving us orders and directions. This is groundless. When an embassy car comes to our office, sometimes it is because the embassies have issued some statements, news or journals. They come to give us these; this is a tradition. In a democratic system, the embassy cars and newspaper people can visit political parties."Similarly, when the embassy officials come, they hold discussions with us. They explain their political situation, their attitudes and the situation in their country. We also explain to them our country’s situation and our political stance. I want to be clear on this because I knowing that [the government] is trying to make people misunderstand us."I also want to say how difficult it is, how much we have been watched , I want the world to see clearly how much they are oppressing and controlling us. I have been out of prison for more than a month now and they have been tailing me non-stop. They have placed guards at a snack shop and a rice shop day and night. They also follow me to the houses I visit. They follow me on two motorcycles or by car when I go to the office.
"For example, I went to see an old friend of mine U Kyi Htoo the other day. He used to work as the chief director of the Interior Ministry’s censorship board. He is more than 80 years old and he could not come out of his house to the garden, he was lying in bed. I went to greet him and the police intelligence officer followed me. He also asked the neighbour if the person who had entered the house was U Win Tin , they didn't know. The neighbour then phoned U Kyi Htoo, which caused him to panic.
"The other day I spoke to the police officer and protested, ‘What you are doing is not right. You can follow us. You can get information from us. It is not good to harass and intimidate our hosts or other people. Please do not harass other people. If you want you can ask me where I am going. I will tell you.’ I am out of jail now but I feel like I am still in jail.
"The whole country is in prison, but we can communicate with each other because of the new technology called mobile phone. But when they imprisoned the students, they used technology, including mobile phones, to implicate them. They intercepted their conversations with people abroad and prosecuted them. They could also prosecute me for talking to you like this. I might even get 65 years like them."
DVB: What can people do inside the country?
WT: "Inside the country, the people are feeling angered by [the harsh sentences]. People are becoming less frightened but more angry. It is another matter whether we can take advantage of these reactions inside the country or not. But the people's resentment will increase anyway. The economy within the country is deteriorating and we have to expect more foolhardy actions by the government. The potential for confrontation between them and the people is very high. In this kind of situation, political, pro-democracy and opposition groups will have to say something, do something, give guidance, and I hope that they will do so. I cannot say what will happen. I am hoping that the movement will become stronger within the country; I believe that stronger opposition and resistance will emerge.
"However much they intimidate us, we are not afraid. As Daw Suu said, even if you are afraid, keep on doing what you have to do. Like the song by Sai Htee Saing, 'I am tired, but not tired', our motto should be 'I am afraid, but not afraid'. I myself might be afraid, but I am living with the motto, I am afraid, but not afraid.
"The worst they can do is imprison or intimidate us. I don’t care. We are not afraid in accordance with the guidance of Daw Suu. Even if I am not afraid, the people who are afraid will make me feel afraid. To be above this, I will proclaim that I am afraid, but not afraid. I want to encourage people to hold onto a doctrine of no fear. You don’t have to be afraid.
"The more people are afraid, the more military governments tend to frighten and oppress them. If there are ten people and only five people are afraid, it will make the throne of the king unsteady. It could even bring it down."
Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw