- Democratic Voice of Burma
Note: Dr Salai Tun Than was released from Insein Prison, Burma, on May 7, after serving 16 months of a seven year sentence for protest in December 2001 against the military regime. The following text consists of edited extracts of his interview with Democratic Voice of Burma radio after his release. Full details of his case may be found on the AHRC website, at http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/tunthan.
I first got the idea [to protest] in 1995. But I just let it be. When I heard that the government and NLD [National League for Democracy] were talking in 2001 I was very happy: "Okay, good. Now our country will improve". Still I was feeling uneasy, and by October we had not heard of any progress. There was a political impasse. There was I: an intellectual, a retired professor, and an elder. So I acted.
After my arrest I was held and interrogated for three days by military intelligence. Then I was put in jail. I was there about a month before I was tried. I first told the judge, "I want to call my family to be here", and he replied, "That's nothing to do with me". I wanted to stand up and ask, "If that is nothing to do with you then who is it to do with? If not the judge, then who is it to do with?" He said, "Grandfather, I'm giving you seven years. That's the minimum for 5(J) [national security legislation]." My mind was racing, "My family don't know anything." After that I had no right of appeal. Just "seven years"; that was it.
In January 2002 my daughter brought me a Bible. Then the head jailer came and talked with me, saying that, "I need to inspect it". "I'll wait for it", I said. "Okay", he said. Well, about nine or ten months passed. Whenever the jailer came doing an inspection or otherwise, I mentioned it. "I'll give it", he said. He said so, but didn't give it. So I thought about what was up. I thought he must have just forgotten about it, so I let it be.
In the prison there are two times, morning and evening, when Buddhist sermons are played on cassette tape. About once a fortnight a prominent monk would also come and deliver a sermon. We really approved of this. Buddhist texts were also always freely read. This we supported, appreciated and believed should be done.
So when I couldn't get the Bible I was a little hurt. After 15 months I still hadn't received it. I felt bad about this. Why was it taking so long? So I decided to do a little hunger strike. I told them. I said that I wasn't doing this as a Christian as such. I said that even if I was a Buddhist and a friend of mine was treated like this then I would do the same for that person. The meaning was that I was just doing it to oppose the denial of the right to freedom of religious practice. I said: "We want the same rights, to have access to texts and whatever else as do the Buddhists. I'm not asking for any special rights. I am very upset and object to not having yet received the book I have requested. Therefore, I'm now doing this hunger strike." I didn't do this just for Christians. I also did this for the Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus¡Xfor everyone. I wanted to have an effect on the violation of the right to practice freedom of religion. Then they gave the book back, so the protest was successful.
Posted on 2003-06-10