Professor Salai Tun Than
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BURMA: Arrested Professor prepared to die for democracy



28 January 2002

UA-04-2002 - Arrested Professor prepared to die for democracy

BURMA: Denial of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrest and detention of elderly human rights defender, concern for safety/risk of torture

[This appeal has been updated. For latest UPDATE, kindly refer to:]

"Many students have already been killed. It is about time that you kill an old professor." (Dr. Salai Tun Than, Burmese Professor)

This appeal is for an international response to the arrest and detention of 74 year-old Dr Salai Tan Thun, a retired Burmese university rector who has publicly petitioned the military government to return power to civilian rule.

In December 2001 Dr Salai Tun Than peacefully handed out copies of a petition calling on the military regime to hold multiparty elections within a year, in front of the Rangoon Town Hall. Shortly after, security officials arrested him. Details of the case became known to The Irrawaddy news service in early January, when it also obtained a copy of Dr Salai Tan Thun・s petition.

We call upon the international community to vigorously protest this denial of fundamental civil liberties so typical of the military regime in Burma (Myanmar). In particular, we call on the academic community throughout the world to act on this outrageous and unjust treatment of one of its peers. You can read the details of the case and the full transcript of Dr. Salai's petition below, or scroll down to the SUGGESTED ACTION section to see what you can do to support his brave protest.


Dr Salai Tan Thun is a 74 year-old retired rector of Yezin University, Pyinmana (Upper Burma). He holds a PhD in Agronomy from the University of Wisconsin, USA. He is a member of the Chin minority ethnic group (western Burma) and a Christian.

According to reliable sources of The Irrawaddy news service (Chiang Mai, Thailand) in early December Dr Salai Tun Than stood in front of Rangoon (Yangon) Town Hall in his academic gown. This is an historic site for resistance to the military regime. There he distributed petitions in his own name calling on the military government to:

1. Hold the multiparty general election within one year.
2. Let the election be held by a civilian interim government as soon as possible.
3. Let the election be supervised by ASEAN and UN officials.
4. Let all the eligible Myanmar citizens who want to contest in the election be able to complete including our military authorities as civilians.
5. Transfer the state power to any winner organization as soon as possible without any condition.

In addition, he urged the government to kill him if unwilling to meet the five points as "it is better to die than live under the military regime". Full text of the petition is in the next section.

Shortly after beginning his protest he was detained by security officers. His whereabouts are since unknown, however it is believed that he is being held in Insein Prison north of Rangoon, and that his relatives have not been granted access to him. He joins some 2000 political prisoners in jails throughout Burma. These include politicians, student activists, academics, writers, journalists, lawyers, unionists, comedians and many others who have publicly opposed the absolute military dictatorship in that country. The Burmese generals' release of a small number of political prisoners has attracted wide attention, but this progress must be put alongside the fact that not only do thousands remain locked up for their political views, but new prisoners of conscience are being detained to take the place of those released.

Note that due to the repressive social and political environment in Burma, to date no further information on Dr Salai Tun Than・s case is available. Those close to him are understandably reluctant to respond to enquiries as their lives are also in jeopardy. However if further details come to light an update to this Urgent Appeal shall be made available.


Citizens of Myanmar, I am Dr. Salai Tun Than, a retired professor, who belongs to a minority race called Asho Chin. I am here to request Myanmar military government five petitions, which are inalienable rights of Myanmar people. They are

No. 1. Hold the multiparty general election within one year.
No. 2. Let the election be held by a civilian interim government as soon as possible.
No. 3. Let the election be supervised by ASEAN and UN officials.
No. 4. Let all the eligible Myanmar citizens who want to contest in the election be able to complete including our military authorities as civilians.
No. 5. Transfer the state power to any winner organization as soon as possible without any condition.

Let me add a remark here. This as that I will be here between Myanmar Independent Monument and Yangon city hall until either the government agrees to my petitions or simply kills me. I am here offering my life for the cause of the rights of Myanmar citizens. I have neither to add nor to subtract from my petitions.

I would like to plead the military government to consider my petitions seriously whether they are just or biased toward anybody or organization except Myanmar people. Perhaps you already have contemplated on granting the matter before my petitions. If it were the case my I utter sadhu thrice and God bless you all. If not convene your military junta and scrutinize my petitions with soul searching intellectual faculties and the love of your country. If you cannot grant my petitions at any rate you simply kill me and I am ready to die for the rights of Myanmar citizens.

Of course many potential intellectuals of high school and university students have already been killed. It is about time that you kill an old professor.

I am appealing to all armed forces: army, navy, air force, security force and police to consider the fairness of my petitions with concern. If it is for the benefit of Myanmar citizens I want you to act intelligently and courageously like the armed forces Indonesia and the Philippines. Do you still want to kill your flesh and blood who are demonstrating for the rights of Myanmar citizens because the authorities order you so? It is about the time to stop killing your kinsfolk. If you join us you all will be adored by the people. Let us rewrite our tarnished history together.

If you consider that you cannot agree with me, please don・t hesitate. Go ahead and kill me. I will be here all the time. I will forgive my killers from the bottom of my heart.

If we happen to meet together in one of the extensive existences of Sansaya, and if I were a mighty person and you all were weaklings and if I find you naked, starved, stricken with soars and diseases and get lost in the darkness of your existence in tears, may I kindly wipe away your tears and feed you, clothe you, and make you whole form your diseases and soars and give you hope with reality of well being in your lives, May God bless and forgive my killers.

May I appeal to the citizens of Myanmar including Sanghas, students, teachers, labourers, artistes, farmers, intellectuals, doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers, judges, housewives and people from all walks of life, please consider my proposal thoroughly and thoughtfully. If you agree with me join me in the demonstration. Go into the streets wherever you are and chant the slogan. I want no one sitting on the fence and the opportunists. It is the fight for our rights and to the finish. The time is now or never. Let us show the military government that we are one and united solidly. Be courageous. Do the right and fear none. But I beseech you citizens of Myanmar. Let us have no violence, no profanity, and no vulgar acts. Don・t break to loot or hit anything. We had been trapped once on looting the leftover warehouses. Take lessons from this and let us not be trapped again. Looters, violent people, abusive people, and people showing vulgar acts are not ours. Avoid them I plead you. Demonstrate in the streets though you may be in tens, hundreds, or thousands. Do not tardy! let us act now. I trust that you all will dare to continue demonstration with boldness even after my death. If you are stopped by the authorities on the way to join me please reason with them to join us. If the authorities release prisoners and send intoxicated and drugged people please explain the reason with them what we are fighting for. Let them join us willingly. It is better to die than to live under the military boots without freedom. The lives you lost will not be in vain. Later Myanmar historians will honour you indeed. Don・t be insecure and afraid. Righteousness is on our side.

Generals, I am doing this on my own accord. No one urge me or bribe me or threaten me to do this, either underground or aboveground, individually or in groups, within the country or overseas. I am accountable for myself no one else.

You all will see that I am wearing a doctorate gown, which I earned it. It is not to brag but to prove that I am a genuine old professor and I want to use it as a shroud for my dead body.

May I request ASEAN officials to convince or military government not to stay in power without consent of the people. If the military government holds the general election soon enough as requested their exit will be graceful.

Otherwise their fate will be unimaginable and ASEAN・s non-interference policy will be soiled and jeopardised. Likewise I would like to request the UN officials to intervene as you did in Yugoslavia before much lives are lost especially after my death. Myanmar people especially youths have suffered enough.

Again I would like to appeal Myanmar media people to carry on your duties normally and inform the people of Myanmar and the world what is actually happening now. It is your cardinal duty to defy the government・s order courageously to report the truth. Let us also chant the slogan of our petitions, the leader will say "hold the multi party general elections" and the mass will respond "within one year. Within one year." The leader will say, "let the election be held by" and the mass will respond "the civilian interim government, the civilian interim government". The leader will say "let the election be supervised by" and the mass will respond "ASEAN and UN officials, ASEAN and UN officials". The leader will say "let any eligible person be able to contest in the election" and the mass will respond "including generals as civilians, including generals as civilians". Lastly the leader will say, "transfer the state power to any winner organization without any condition" and the mass will respond "as soon as possible, as soon as possible." That is all for the slogan.

I thank you all and may God bless Myanmar people richly. The right of the people must be victorious indeed.


We urge concerned parties to send letters to Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the military regime, with copies to other officials and the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma, expressing outrage at the arrest of Dr Salai Tun Than. A sample letter and contact details are in the next section.

In particular, we urge the global academic community to forward the details of Dr Salai Tun Than・s case throughout its networks. We strongly recommend all academics refrain from actions that may lend legitimacy to the military government in Burma, such as setting up exchange programmes, attending conferences or doing research with Burmese military approval, until Dr Salai Tun Than and other political prisoners are released.


Dear Sr-Gen Than Shwe

I am writing to you to express my outrage at the arrest of Dr Salai Tun Than, retired rector of Yezin University.

Dr Salai Tun Than was detained last December while peacefully exercising his right to freedom of speech, in calling for a transition to democratic government in your country. His arrest reflects your government's consistent denial of the fundamental rights and freedoms of those you purport to represent.

The optimism created by the release of a small number of political prisoners in Myanmar is being undermined by the arrest of new political prisoners and the continued imprisonment of thousands of others because of their political views. I urge you to immediately release Dr Salai Tun Than and all other political prisoners in Myanmar.

Yours sincerely


Senior General Than Shwe
State Peace and Development Council
Office of the Prime Minister


1. Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt
State Peace and Development Council
Ministry of Defence
Signal Pagoda Rd
Fax (+951) 22950

2. U Win Aung
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

3. Paulo Srgio Pinheiro
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix,
FAX: +41 22 9170213
Email: (please mark ATT: MR. PINHEIRO)

4. National League for Democracy
97B West Shwegondaing Street
Bahan Township

5. Myanmar Embassy/consulate in your country.

Posted on 2002-01-28

Asian Human Rights Commission
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