An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
The following account was given by a Karen political prisoner who was released from Bassein Prison in the Irrawaddy Delta in June 1994. He was not arrested in the Delta and it is unclear why they sent him there, but most of the political prisoners in that prison are Karen church and community leaders who were arrested after an armed Karen uprising failed in the Delta in October 1991. Since then, SIORC has maintained a reign of absolute terror over Karen villages in the Delta, completely out of sight of the world community. Many of the prisoners he was with are probably presumed dead by their own families after disappearing 2 or 3 years ago in the hands of SLORC troops.
This man's name has been changed and some other details omitted to protect him and his family. Please use this report in any way which may help put an end to stories like this one in Burma.
NAME: Maung Win Htun
DESCRIPTION: Karen Buddhist
ADDRESS: Mone Township, Nyaunglebin District, Pegu Division
FAMILY: Married with children
OCCUPATION: Small goods peddler
They arrested me on January 29, 1992. I went to a village called C---. There was a family there with a son who wanted to join the Revolution, and his mother thought I had come from the KNLA [Karen National Liberation Army] to encourage the village youth to join, so she reported this to the authorities mistakenly, and the police came and arrested me.
They took me to Chaung Gone lockup. I remember that they started to torture me on February 14, and they kept torturing me until March 5. They tortured and interrogated me for long periods. They asked, "How many KNLA soldiers went to join the Delta Karen soldiers?" I told them I don't know anything about that, because I don't. They asked me about General Bo Mya and 101 Battalion [KNLA] at Kaw Moo Rah. I said I don't know anything about that because it’s so far from Mone Township and I’ve never even been there. They slapped both my ears at the same time very hard with their hands. It made my ears ring and I went completely deaf for 5 minutes ['boxing the ears' like this can very easily cause permanent hearing damage]. They punched me and kicked me, and they dragged me to the river and held my head underwater while they stabbed the back of my neck. They held my head underwater for over a minute at a time. The worst thing they did was shocking with electricity. They put metal caps on 2 of my fingers and turned on the electricity, and they can control how much voltage they stab you with. They turned up the power higher and higher until it was unbearable. I felt paralyzed for an hour afterwards, and it was so terrible that I couldn't do anything.. I couldn't even eat.
I was interrogated by 2 police and 1 army intelligence man. During my interrogation they didn't feed me any food for 5 days. One of the soldiers came and gave me some food secretly. The interrogators beat, punched and kicked me countless times and I got internal injuries, and you can see that my hand looks abnormal [Maung Win Htun's left arm is visibly deformed and shorter than his right arm with a distorted swelling of the bone just below the elbow and a partly disabled hand, the result of a broken arm during the beatings which was never treated]. Some of the political prisoners from the pro-democracy uprisings [probably the 1988 uprisings] had lots of money and they felt sorry for me, so they said things to cheer me up like "It's okay, you are going against SLORC, so don't feel small. We're going to help you as much as we can". They gave me some food and money and took care of me like their brother. I was at Chaung Gone for 4 months and 18 days then they sent me to Ye Gyi for 71 days. Then finally on August 7, 1992 the SLORC sentenced me to 3 years.
After; they sentenced me they sent me to Bassein Jail [Bassein is the major town of Irrawaddy Division] on August 15. At the jail there were so many people from different places, from Maung Mya, Ma Oo Bin, Bo Kalay, Nga Pu Daw, Hin Tha Dah, Inn Ka Puh and other places. There were 2,200 people altogether, male and female. While I was there over 300 people were killed by disease. When people got sick they weren't given any medical treatment - only when they were about to die they were sent to the prison hospital. Most of the patients died the next day after being sent. Most of them were over 60. A lot were KNU [Karen National Union] veterans or people who deserted from the KNU. After the Delta uprising [in October 1991] the SLORC had arrested them all again.
When I arrived at the prison they put me alone in a cell as a political prisoner. They didn't force the political prisoners to do labour. They put us each alone in a small cell. Early in the morning they let us go out to go to the toilet. Then they made us go back in at about 7:30 a.m. At 12 noon we could go out again for a bath, and then again at 3 p.m. After that they locked us up until the next morning. They fed us twice a day with enough rice, but the bean soup was very bad. They just put a few beans in a lot of water, and they gave us bad prawn paste that was half paste and half sand. They just deliberately treated us badly. In the evening they gave us rice with boiled water-greens, just boiled in water without any salt or seasoning. Whether we liked it or not we had to eat it.
My cell was about 3 yards by 4 yards with a toilet pot in it. Sometimes 3 of us had to stay in there, and sometimes I was alone. I lived in that cell for over a year, and in an ordinary big cell with many others for over a year. After sentencing they never beat or interrogated us. We were never allowed to talk to each other, only to the guards, so I don't know much about the other prisoners. Even while we were taking a bath we weren't allowed to talk to each other.
Those who were criminal prisoners, like if they were charged with rape or something, had to carry away the toilet pots. These are oil drums cut in half, and two of them have to carry them away on a pole. If they were too weak to carry them they were beaten like cattle. As for the old people, they made them catch or kill 300 flies every day. They said to them "In jail all the people must work". The prisoners with sentences under 5 years were just made to work in the jail. Those who had sentences over 5 years were sent for Yeh Pet labour [this means labour on government projects such as roads and railways]. Those people had to work very hard.
They never allowed us to get pens, books, newspapers, magazines or letters, but it was easy to get them anyway if you could bribe them. Some prisoners had money so they paid the guards 450 Kyat every month, and the guards would get all those things for them. If they trusted a prisoner and liked him they'd let him act pretty freely. As for me, I was sentenced to 3 years but I was only in jail for just over 2 years.
After I was released I tried to go back to my family, but I couldn't even find my village. My village had been relocated. I only saw the poles of the houses, and I had no way to stay there. Now I’m still looking for my wife. I’m trying to find them in the refugee camps. I don't know how to get revenge against the SLORO. I’m afraid to fight them, and we've been oppressed since we were young, so all I want is to find my family. I miss my family, and I have no money and not even any clothes. I don't even want to stay alive anymore.