MAE SOT, Thailand—For six years, Thiha Yazar was isolated from the world in a prison cell in eastern Burma. The prison guards had been ordered not to communicate with him.
“The worst thing about that time was having no sense of the future or the past,” Thiha told The Irrawaddy. “I was completely alone and lost.”
The cell had one small window, and to keep himself from being too lonely, he would talk to birds. “I would ask them to go and say hello to my daughter for me.”
At night, he would talk to the moon and stars. “They kept me company; they were my only friends,” Thiha said.
Despite the isolation and depression he felt over the years, he doesn’t see that period of isolation as the worst part of the 18-years he spent in prison. The worst part was during the 25-day period when he was tortured following his role in a hunger strike over the lack of prison rights.
They stripped him and beat him till he couldn’t stand up any more. “The next day I woke up with bruises all over my body, but they propped me up and beat me again,” he said, still visibly shaken by the memory. “And the next day and the next, for 25 days—I thought I would die.”
Thiha’s story is one of thousands which have come out of Burmese prisons, where many political prisoners are tortured and denied basic prison rights. Their only crime, Thiha says, “is to fight for democracy, freedom and basic human rights in our country where the regime has denied the people everything.”
To raise awareness about the situation of political prisoners, Thiha has teamed up with Canadian journalist Paul Pickrem and written an account of his imprisonment. The book, “No Easy Road: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story,” chronicles his life growing up as the child of an army colonel, his sentence to death for high treason at the age of 25, and up until the time he fled to the Thai-Burma border.
“I want the international community to know about my life so people can better understand the situation for all political prisoners, and what our families go through,” he said.
When he went to prison, his daughter was three years old and on his release, she didn’t recognize him. “She said she knew I was her daddy but didn’t know who I was. Then she blamed me for her mother’s death.”
Her mother had a heart attack when his daughter was six years old. She had a bad heart, and Thiha believes the pressure of having her husband in prison was too much for her.
“It is not only my case, but all political prisoners. Our families are bullied and stigmatized by local pro-junta groups. It was too much for her.”
The book's release has coincided with the upcoming 2010 election, to be held on on Nov. 7. Like many political prisoners who have sought refuge on the Thai-Burma border, Thiha sees no hope for any real change after the election.
“If we get the rotten food in prison, and then they change the plate from a red plate to white plate, the food will still taste the same. It means, if the regime changes their clothes, it will still be a bad situation for our country,” he said.
“We can see that the generals are doing everything the way they want. How can we expect change when there are still 2,200 political prisoners inside prisons on Election Day?”
Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), echoed the sentiment. “Now all the key political leaders are in prison, like Aung San Suu Kyi, Min Ko Naing and other ethnic leaders; as long as they are in prison there will be no national reconciliation process,” he said.
“People really trust those leaders. People really want them to lead the country so people will not want to vote. They will only vote because they are threatened by the USDP.
“If the regime really wanted a credible election, then they would release all political prisoners so they can be included in the national political process,” he said.
Bo Kyi said that he received messages from some of the student leaders inside prison, who have stated that they all reject the upcoming elections.
Although the regime offered them freedom if they publicly supported the election, they declared that they stood by the “Maubin Declaration,” an agreement between a group of student leaders that said they would not accept the elections unless all political prisoners are released.
There are currently nearly 2,200 political prisoners in Burmese prisons across the country. The AAPP says political prisoners are denied adequate medical treatment and placed in prisons far from their families as a form of psychological torture.