Torture Survivor Campaigns for Freedom in Burma; Political Activist Aung Din Speaks Out For Prisoners Of Conscience
Washington -- Aung Din survived the torture and years of imprisonment he received in Burma as punishment for his political views. On July 24 he spoke at the United Nations in New York City on behalf of political prisoners in his homeland and elsewhere in the world.
He was one of several political activists at a special panel discussion designed to underscore international promises made in the Declaration of Prisoners of Conscience issued in June. The declaration, sponsored by the United States and 63 other U.N. member states, calls for a high-priority global commitment to freeing prisoners of conscience.
The panel discussion was moderated by Ambassador T. Vance McMahan, U.S. representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, who told the audience, "Persecution of human rights defenders occurs in many parts of the globe and requires the urgent attention of the international community as a whole."
At the panel discussion, Aung Din said the Burmese regime is holding about 2,000 political detainees, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. He described the abuse he suffered for his dedication to freedom for his countrymen.
Aung Din spent more than four years in prison -- sometimes in solitary confinement, naked, in total darkness -- after organizing and leading Burma's nationwide pro-democracy uprising in August 1988 as vice chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. ABFSU, the largest student organization in Burma, is outlawed by the ruling military junta.
He endured physical and psychological torture in the interrogation chambers run by military intelligence and in prisons -- two years in the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon, and another two years in Thayet Prison in central Burma.
In 1989, Amnesty International designated him a "Prisoner of Conscience," and its chapters worldwide campaigned for his release. He was released in July 1993 and fled Burma in 1995. After living in Singapore, where he received a master's degree in business administration, and Thailand, he came to the United States in 2001. Since his arrival in the United States, Aung Din has earned a master's degree from American University's School of International Service.
In 2003, Aung Din co-founded the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, an umbrella group of Burmese dissidents in exile and American activists. He is also country representative of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma based at the Thai-Burma border.
He has been quoted in hundreds of articles, testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and traveled on speaking tours across the United States.
At the July 24 U.N. panel discussion, Aung Din said the Burmese regime continues to abuse prisoners horribly, many of them just ordinary people. "They are not criminals," he said. "Actually, they are the future of our country. Their lives should be used for building a better nation."
In a statement issued June 10, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "The United States believes that the ongoing detention of political prisoners, including National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the conditions under which they are held, is appalling. ... The United States continues to urge the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to begin a genuine dialogue with democratic and ethnic minority leaders on a transition to democracy."