VOL.I No. V NOVEMBER 1998
VOL.I No. V NOVEMBER 1998
INTERVIEW WITH A CHIN POLITICAL PRISONER
(The interview was conducted in August 1998, New Delhi.)
Name : Lal Ram (not his real name)
Age : 33
Sex : Male
Religion : Christian
Nationality : Chin
Marital Status : Married, one son aged 3 1/2
Occupation : Farmer and trader
From : Kaleymyo, Sagaing Division
Q. How were you arrested?
A. My eldest brother was involved with a leader of CNF and he was killed in 1995. I went to attend his funeral at the Indo-Burma border. Afterwards, I returned to Kaleymyo. I was watched by the Military Intelligence and interrogated several times. A few weeks later, in June 1995, I went to Lashio to do some business in Shweli at the Chinese border. I was staying in a hotel in Lashio when the MI came to arrest me. They surrounded the hotel and about 17 soldiers, some in uniform, some in civilian clothes, came to my room. They pointed their guns at me and blindfolded me. They took me out and I remember hearing that one of the soldier shot in the air. They took me to the MI Department. They accused me to be a Chin terrorist. They interrogated me and tortured me a lot. They gave electric shocks on the tip of my fingers and on the wrists of both hands. They clipped live electric wires to my fingers. Each electric shock lasted 30 seconds to one minute. It was so strong that I became unconscious. They let me rest for 3 or 4 hours and then interrogated me and gave me electric shocks again. They also gave other kinds of electric shocks which made me itch everywhere. The worst torture was that they made me stand on my toes with a candle lit under my heels and I had to stand like this for 5 or 6 minutes each time. They did that twice a day for one week. I was also beaten so many times with a cane stick all over my body. I was bleeding from my nose and my ears.
I was only given a bottle lid of water to drink twice a day and during the whole week only once I received some old rice to eat. They tortured me day and night like this for one week. They took turns to interrogate and beat me. They always questioned me about the CNF and the other opposition groups in India. During all this time I was forced to stand all the time and I could not sleep at all. After 2 or 3 days, I felt completely mad. I could not think anymore. Then, after 7 days, they transferred me to Lashio jail.
My case was submitted to the military court. However, the judge and the magistrate found that I was not guilty. But the military officer did not approve my release and since he didn’t know anything about law, he ordered the judge to write that I violated Art.17/1. They never gave me any sentence, and sent me back to jail. While in jail, I was summoned to court every two weeks and interrogated every time.
I stayed in jail for 32 months. Some of my business friends and relatives started giving money to the court. When they collected 800,000 Kyats, they released me on bail for 3 months. It was on 13th March 1998. As soon as I left the jail, I returned to Mandalay and Kaleymyo. I picked up my wife and my son, and we escaped directly to India. We have been here since March 1998.
Q. Could you describe the conditions in Lashio jail?
A. In jail, those convicted and those awaiting conviction [those who have not go through the due process of law] were separated. I stayed together with those awaiting conviction. In Lashio jail, there are three large rooms with about 200 prisoners and two small rooms for about 70 prisoners for those who had already received a sentence, and two large rooms and two small ones for those who had not been tried.
There were 200 prisoners in our room, which was 110 feet x 18 ft. We had to sleep like sardines, squeezed against each other with our legs over each other. Like this, for 32 months! Every night 10 prisoners were guarding the others. Outside there was a post with four policemen and every five minutes, those who were guarding the prisoners had to shout to the police that everything was OK.
We were only allowed to go to toilet once during the night, between 12 a.m and 1 a.m. The toilets were inside and they let us go two by two. At any other time, the prisoner was left to use his sleeping space and he would be beaten with a stick as a punishment.
They separated the prisoners, those with money and those without. Those with money could sleep in the most comfortable area. They paid between 10,000 and 15,000 Kyats for their sleeping space. Anyone who gave 100,000 Kyats to the jailer could become a leader among the prisoners. A leader is very powerful and can make a lot of money. He is usually the one who beats the other prisoners. Their family gives the money to the police.
When a new prisoner arrives, the leader demanded money from him for a good sleeping place and light work. The leader then shares with the police. Those who arrived without money are forced to clean the floor of the sleeping room 40 times back and forward, and three times a day. I had to do this at the beginning. Only the convicted political prisoners were forced to empty the toilets. Those not convicted like me had to carry water, do agricultural work, like planting mustard leaves, and washing the clothes of all the jail officers, the police and their families. The prisoners had to buy the soap themselves. Those who paid money just took a broom and pretend to sweep the floors. There was no prisoner with shackles in our room, only among those already convicted. Usually they were sent out to work in a hard labour camp. When they left, I never knew where they were sent to.
Q. Can you describe a day in jail?
A. We had to work everyday, no rest day. We were woken up at 4 a.m. and there was a room call. At 6 a.m. they opened the door of our room and all the prisoners were forced to do planting work up to 9 a.m. without any food. We got our breakfast between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Then we had to fetch water from a very deep well and wash the clothes of the jail staff. Between 3 and 4 p.m., we received our dinner. Afterwards we had to do agricultural work again until 6 p.m. At 6 p.m we entered our room and they locked the doors. Every Monday, the jailer came and checked the prisoners and wherever we were, we had to sit head down from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. When the authorities came and inquired about us, we always had to say that we were OK. For each meal, they usually gave us two handfuls of rice mixed with sand and soda, as well as ngapi and dal [yellow beans] soup.
Q. Have you ever been beaten or tortured?
A. Yes. At the beginning, when I had to clean the room floor, the leader of the prisoners came to ride on my back without any reason. Sometimes too, the leader accused me not to do my work properly even though I did nothing wrong. He would then beat me. After my brother-in-law visited me, the prisoners’ leader ordered me to share the money. I had received no money, but he said that I was lying. For one week he came to beat me regularly when I was working. The police had ordered him to beat me.
Q. Were you ever sick?
A. The first two months I was seriously sick as a result of torture. I was not allowed to go to hospital. I received no medicine. Those with money could pay 50 Ks for one tablet. For example, a 25cc glucose injection costs 700 Kyats. Only when the prisoner could no longer eat, would he be exempt from work. I was able to take some food, so they forced me to work. Sometimes I suffered from fever. Every week, two or three prisoners were dying. They could not resist the jail conditions and became too weak.
Q. Did you get any visit?
A. My wife could not come. It was too far for her to come from Kaleymyo to Lashio. My brother-in-law only came to visit me twice during the 32 months in jail.
Q. What kind of prisoners were staying with you? Who were those who had not been convicted?
A. All sorts! Many were Chinese who had been arrested as illegal immigrants, some criminals, pickpockets, drug users and traffickers, and some students from the 1996 students’ demonstrations. In my room, about there were illegal Chinese and three students. In immigration cases, the detainees would usually pay some bribes to get released. Some prisoners were convicted quickly but for others it could take years. Among the three students, two of them were from Taunggyi College and had not been convicted yet when I left in March 1998. The other student was from Lashio and was sentenced to 9 years. Only the petty drug dealers are arrested, such as a driver or a guard, never the important traffickers. I didn’t see much drug use while I was in jail.
Religious persecution is a problem of major concern in Chinland. Almost 100% of Chins are Christians. Over the past few years, The Burmese military has been forcing Chin Christian villagers to build Buddhist pagodas in their own villages. The Burmese soldiers have been descrating churches and graveyards by turning them into army camps, disturbing religious services and preventing evangelists from preaching.
The following information is provided by Rev-( Name omitted). The incident occured while he was serving in Zomi ( Chin ) Baptist Convention.
In August 1993, there come a telegram to the office of Zomi (Chin) Baptist convention, sent from Kuki Chin Baptist Association office, situated in Homalin, Sagaing Division. This telegram said : Rev Zang Kho Let and 3 other evangelists of the area died. Letter follows. When the follow-up letter arrived the office of Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention, it said that the victims were brutally tortured and shot to death by the Burman army.
It was a great loss to Zomi ( Chin ) Baptist Convention. The letter explained how they were brutally tortured and killed. I brought the case to the Executive Committee meeting of our Convention. When I read the telegram and the letter before 54 decision making persons, I was trembling. All the members shed tears and cried for help and blessing from God. We selected words carefully to make a report to our Central Baptist office. We stood up and had 4 minutes silence in due respect of the dead evangelists, one minute each for the four. The most senior minister among us said a prayer for the dead.
The Central Baptist Office of Burma wrote a report to the Ministry of Religion. The action taken was transferring that army group. Aside from that there was nothing else we could do. All we did with the government was noted and recorded by local State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) office in Hakha, the capital city of Chin State.
LOOTING OF JAGGERY
On 14.2.98, Capt. Zaw Win and his troops came to a sugar cane plantation, 3 miles away from Hmunhalh village in Thantlang township. They confiscated (37) viss of jaggery from the owners. Then they collected (8) men from the plantation and forced them to carry the jaggery to Hmunhalh village. There they forced Hmunhalh villagers to carry the jaggery to Thantlang market where it is sold for the army profit.
FORCED LABOR: BUILDING A FOOTBALL GROUND
In April 1998, the Battalion Commander from Infantry Battalion IB 266 based in Hakha came to Lailenpi village and ordered the Lailenpi company commander Myo Swe to dig a footfall ground in Lailenpi. All the villages in the Lailenpi area were ordered to contribute their labor. The football ground must be completed in 1998. According to that order, Myo Swe demanded every village to send one person per household to dig the ground in Lailenpi. The villagers came to Lailenpi and stayed in relatives’ houses. Since June 1998 each villages came by rotation and worked for 3 to 5 days. Most of the laborers were old men and children, because the young men went to Mizoram, India to work during the summer vacation. This was reported to CHRO by a member of the Pintio village Council in Matupi township. Another villager from Lailenpi also confirmed that: “The working time was fixed by the army commander, from 9 a.m to 12 noon and from 1 p.m to 4 p.m. The villagers were guarded by soldiers while working. Some villagers didn’t bring enough food to stay at the work site for 5 days. They didn’t receive anything from the army and were not allowed to go back to their village. They had to share and could only eat ricesoup.”
MAUNG TAW KYA AUNG ACCOUNT
Under increasing Burmese military control, the Chins are today suffering many of the same abuses as other people living in the border region of Burma. The following is the story of Maung Tawkya Aung, a Chin young man from Ye Aung village, Kyauk Daw township of Arakan State. He suffered all kinds of abuse and harassment committed by the Burmese army in his village area. When his tolerence terminated, he has no alternative but to join the opposition movement of the military government. He provided the following testimony to CHRO field monitor at one of the Chin National Army (CNA) posts.
Name : Maung Tawkya Aung
Father’s name : U Aung Phe ( deceased)
Mother’s name : Daw Ma Huaih
Place of birth : Yeaung village, Kyaukdaw, Arakan State
Nationality : Chin ( Awah Khami tribe )
Religion : Christian
Age : 20-years
Since our village is under the command of Light Infantry Battalion (L I B) 376, all orders come from this regiment. There are three regiments in Kyauk Daw township which are LIB.374, LIB 375 and LIB 376.
I have served twice as a porter. Once was to Athet Tamah village which is one and half hour walk from our village. I carried two army rucksacks. Another occasion was to Ram Chawng army post which is 7-days walk from our village. Ram Chawng army post is laid about the boundary of Mindat township of Chin State. On that occasion there were 12-soldiers with 9-porters. There were 4-porters from our village and 5-porters from Athet Tamah village. I carried two army’s rucksacks and two hens. We had to walk flat land for 5-days and climb up the mountain for 2-days. We were led by a sergeant from L I B No. 376. We had to serve with our own ration without pay. We stayed a day at Ram Chawng army post . On our return we caught a lorry car and reached our village in a day. If a person who is selected for a porter is sick, he has to arrange and find another person for a substitute. He has to pay Kyats 100 (Burmese currency) per day. We had to walk through the jungle to Ram Chawng army post and sleep in the jungle, never sleep in the village.
Concerning forced labour there is Myouk Oo- Paletwah car road reconstruction (Arakan State to Chin State). It has been two years that the construction started. In summer time the car could hardly run from Myouk Oo to Tama Kyi. But it could not reach up until Palatwah. I also worked as forced labourer to pave the pebble on the road. One person per household had to contribute in the construction. There was no exemption for the sick. He has to find and arrange another person for a substitute paying Kyat 100 per day.
We had to gather stones around from hill top and gully. First we had to carry the stones and pave them on the road. And some other people broke stones into pieces of pebble and covered evenly onto the stones previously paved. The quota of length to complete the road the construction for 20 household of our village was a hundred feet long. It took 7-days to complete it. The bigger village got the longer length of quota to be done. The quota for the bigger village like Pyoungtine was 5000 feet and 600-feet for Atetamah. We got nothing for our laboured. All our basic needs had to bring by our own. That was in April of 1998. We have to contribute our labour until the car road is completed.
When the rainy season came we had to bring the things Kyauk Daw army post needs such as woods, posts and bamboo to build the army tent. The army ordered which village has to bring what, how many and how much work to be done. Moreover we had to work pulling seedlings, transplanting on paddy fields owned by army with our own food. In the winter season when harvesting time came we had to work for threshing paddy, reaping the crops with our own food. Women also had to work in harvesting.
Another thing is on bricks the army needs for building. The army put quota of log fire for baking bricks. Our village had to provide them 750-fire log. The logs have to be 5-feets in length with a girth of 1 feet. And the wood must be a good quality. I did cut 40-logs for our family quota. We cut the trees very hardly and carried them to Athetamah village. And then sent them to Kyauk Daw army post. People who could not carry the log had to hire a boat at their own expenses. That wasn’t the end yet. At the brick kiln we had to feed the fire all days and nights without proper sleep. So we got so tired. I had been working for 15 days at the brick kiln. As usual we had to bring our own food. We got nothing for our laboured. I did work as forced labourer just before I left for here. We went to Tanphaya river and collected stones from Tanphaya river and loaded on the boat. First we had to take them to the army battalion headquarters. And we had to pave them on the road between battalion headquarters and the army post. We were so tired. As usual we brought our own food and without pay. Summer, rainy and winter all seasons the army’s works never cease in our area. In early part of summer in 1998 when the revolutionists moved about in our area we had to serve sentry duty. Two man had to guard around our village all days and nights with empty hands. They asked us to inform when the revolutionists came into our village or sensed anything of them. I and my friend had to guard between our village and Kha Daw village until the situation returned to normal.
In that way we have to work for army all the time. We had no time to work for our own. And when my tolerance ended, I decided to join one of revolutionary organisations. I found Chin National Front and joined it on 18 May of 1998.