In March in 1988 in Burma, thousands of students took to the streets in a protest against the ruling Junta that would result in 3,000 deaths.
Ko Aung was a leader of the protests. He was arrested and tortured. Two years later he received a jail sentence for his role in the protests at a trial that many believe to have been unfair, and that he claims used evidence that was given after undergoing severe torture. While in prison, he received hundreds of cards from Amnesty International members. When finally released in 1994, he fled to the UK, but has never forsaken those whom he sees as his brothers in the dungeons of the Junta.
This is his account.
“I had a key role to mobilise and organise the uprising in 1988. I never regretted what I did, because it was for what I believed was right.
I served three and a half years in solitary confinement on and off. The only way I survived was to hold my belief and fight for it. If you hold true to your belief, then you can bear the iron bar or the torture. I lost so many friends and comrades, and I was kept alive by keeping fighting for what they wanted and gave their lives for. I was brutally tortured in several military detention centres.
At the time, I had an iron bar on across my legs, with a chain for my hands from it. It was a dark room, really hard to sleep, hard to walk because it was so small. At night, I had nothing to wear; they had taken all my clothes, and I had this iron bar around my legs. It was cold – about as cold as Autumn in Britain.
There were mosquitoes trying to bite every inch of my body, so I was going crazy trying to get them off. It was the only time I had talked to God, and I said “help me!” When I talked I could feel the release, I needed somebody to talk to.
But I will tell you about the worst time. During the night they would come and knock on my door. It had happened before, and I was so scared. After every time they came in they handcuffed me and took me into this dark room. It was completely dark, I couldn’t see anything.
They asked me to climb down big steps. I climbed down the first, and the second. When I got to the third, I smelt it. It was maggots. They forced me into it, to climb into it.
I was in maggots up to my waist, and crying out “you can’t do this to me”. They forced me in up to my neck. I shouted and cried, but they made me stay there. I don’t know how long I stayed there, I was just crying. I could feel maggots crawling up onto my face.
My mind went blank…and then I wake up in hospital.
They take the information from me, and use that to sentence me.
It is a troubled time in solitary confinement, but friends managed to send the letters through. You have no-one to talk to, and suddenly you receive a card from far far away, it is such a gift of strength.
There is only one thing that the regime can take away from me, and that is hope. You need to keep hope alive, and this card helped do that in solitary confinement.
There were many others with me during the protests. 100s gave their lives for the cause of freedom. 1000s were arrested, others fled. The leader of my students union is still in prison. Some people give their lives for the cause of freedom. You can be beaten and tortured, but if your mind is strong, you won’t lose.
I never thought of escaping. It is not a solution to the problem, you can only free yourself. You will still leave a lot of comrades behind, and living together is a huge encouragement.
Around the world, the UK is the best one for knowing the profile of the situation in Burma. Change within the Burmese government is possible. Revolution is an option, but so is non-revolution. We need to empower society, we need education, and trying to get the information to our people. We now have more advanced technology, and they [the Junta] can’t stop that.
I can’t find the words to show my appreciation to the UK.
Please use your liberties to promote ours.”
A 2004 Amnesty report details the known political prisoners still taken in Burma. It can be seen here. The situation today is no better than the one that Ko endured. Much still remains to be done.