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By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.3

(Page 6 of 11)

Min Ko Naing was charged under section 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act for having delivered anti-government speeches and agitating unrest. For this, he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in solitary confinement. While other political prisoners have received amnesties and are allowed to stay in group cells and receive regular family visits, Min Ko Naing has been kept isolated and without any reduction of his sentence.

In prison

There are doubts about how well Min Ko Naing has been holding up in prison. There have been confirmed reports of torture, but according to UN Human Rights Investigator Yozo Yokota, who was permitted to meet Min Ko Naing in 1995 after repeated requests, the student leader was nervous and thin but otherwise in good health. An earlier visit by US congressman Bill Richardson, in February 1994, was also encouraging. Through the congressman, he conveyed a simple message to his friends: "Don’t give up." A year later, fellow prisoner Win Htein, Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal assistant, reported when he was released that Min Ko Naing’s fighting spirit was still strong.

More recent reports have stated that he is suffering from a gastric ulcer. His friends are also increasingly concerned that his incredibly long period of solitary confinement must be taking a toll on his state of mind.

While Min Ko Naing’s fate is uncertain, and his destiny as a "conqueror of kings" remains unfulfilled, his importance as an inspiration to others who continue the fight to bring democracy to Burma is beyond doubt.

In a rare interview with Asiaweek magazine in 1988, Min Ko Naing said: "I’ll never die. Physically I might be dead, but many more Min Ko Naings will appear to take my place. As you know, Min Ko Naing can only conquer a bad king. If the ruler is good, we will carry him on our shoulders."

Based on reports by The Nation, Asiaweek and ABSDF Information Services.


"Heroes never die"

The most important thing about Min Ko Naing is his morals and courage. I have always admired his courage. When we were very young, Min Ko Naing’s parents did not like him to hang out with me. They worried that I would "destroy" him. My parents thought the same thing of him. So we could not meet in front of our parents. But we always managed to meet each other.

We had our own signal. Min Ko Naing would make a cross with charcoal at an electricity pole, which is sitting in front of his house. That meant he was not at home. If he was there, he would just make a check mark. Then I knew he was there, and I would wait nearby. When he saw me, he would come out and we would meet. We used this signal until the 1988 democracy uprisings.

Our parents should have been worried. When we were young, I showed him how to smoke, and in return, he taught me how to swim. As we got older, we began to read more books and learn more about politics. Later we started having serious and critical discussions on the political situation and that made our parents really worry. Once my father angrily said, "Do you think our house is a rebel headquarters?" At that time, we were holding informal meetings and discussions on politics.

Now my friend is serving a 20 year sentence in prison, and I have also given a death sentence in absentia. Min Ko Naing does not work for himself, but for the people, which is why he is a real hero. I think of my friend more and more whenever I see those who are power hungry and cowards holding titles and are in high positions. But I’m sure that his spirit is still strong, and he will continue to stand up against the military dictatorship in Burma. But I’m worried about his health condition. But heroes never die.

By Moe Thee Zun, Deputy Chairman of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front [ABSDF].

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