Report Reveals Unending Struggles for Political Prisoners

By Tin Htet Paing 25 May 2016

RANGOON — Than Than Htay, a 50-year-old former political prisoner, feels insecure whenever one of her family members yells at her cat, a companion she brought with her upon her release from prison five years ago.

“They would say ‘Put that cat back in prison!’ and I felt really insecure because I sometimes wondered if they wanted my cat or me to be back in prison again,” she told The Irrawaddy at the report launch of “After Release I Had To Restart My Life From the Beginning” in Rangoon on Wednesday.

The report gathered data from more than 1,600 former political prisoners from January 2014 to July 2015, and was published by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP) and the Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS). It examines the life experiences of Burma’s former political prisoners and the mistreatment that they encountered in prisons under the military regime.

According to the report, Burma has had between 7,000 and 10,000 political prisoners since 1962.

“I felt very sensitive to even such little things,” Than Than Htay said. “Interactions with family, friends and my community became very different to me after I was released, and I felt very left out.”

After 11 years of imprisonment, she is now working as a counselor at a rehabilitation program run by the AAPP, a Thailand-based organization founded by several of Burma’s former political prisoners.

“The primary objective was to examine the life experiences of former political prisoners in Burma, including the human rights violations encountered during interrogation and in prison and the difficulties faced since their release,” the report said.

The AAPP put together the publication to reveal the widespread mistreatment and systematic use of torture perpetrated against political prisoners by state interrogators and to encourage those who committed such crimes to admit their wrongdoings.

“This report shines a spotlight on the situation of the political prisoners and what they have gone through,” Tate Naing, the secretary of AAPP said at the launch event.

According to Tate Naing, the report documents human rights violations that former political prisoners suffered while in detention and is crucial to rehabilitation and reparation.

Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of the AAPP, told The Irrawaddy that the report is an initial step toward seeking justice for all who suffered and sacrificed their lives during Burma’s path to democracy.

“We are not talking about revenge,” he said. “We just want to reveal the truth so that we can heal the wounds of those who suffered.”

“For me, this report is about documenting an unjust system,” he said referring to the military regime that governed Burma for over five decades since a coup d’etat in 1962.

The report also made recommendations for the government and Parliament: Release all political prisoners unconditionally, adopt an internationally recognized definition of the term ‘political prisoner’ and guarantee and contribute to reparations for former political prisoners and their family members.

The report was funded by the Project 2049 Institute, the US Department of State and the University of California, Irvine’s School of Law.