The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
Political Prisoners Remembered

A photographer documents Burmese former political prisoners and those who remain in jail

A British photographer has set out on a personal mission to publicize the plight of Burma’s more than 2,100 political prisoners by photographing former prisoners of the regime who now live in refugee camps or have emigrated.

A former student activist, U Teza spent eight years in Insein and Thayawaddy prisons. He was released in 1997 and now lives in Thailand. (Photos: James Mackay)
A native of London, James Mackay hopes to interview and photograph as many ex-political prisoners as possible before compiling a collection of images for an exhibition and a book with a view to publicizing the issue as a campaign tool ahead of the 2010 general election in Burma.

With the names of political prisoners still behind bars written on their palms, which are held up in a Buddhist symbol of dispelling fear, Mackay’s subjects help tell the story of the hundreds of people who are arrested in Burma each year for no more than exercising their freedom of speech, being members of a political party or participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Mackay told The Irrawaddy he was inspired to undertake the venture after standing outside Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in Rangoon, staring silently at the locked gates and contemplating “the aura of invincibility” that Suu Kyi portrayed in the face of adversity.
Mackay has no doubt about the end game. “The sole purpose of this project is to raise awareness of Burma’s political prisoners,” he said. “They must all be released. Unconditionally.”

Earlier this year, Mackay was awarded runner-up in the political journalism category at the Prix de la Photographie in Paris. He will now spend up to one year traveling around Thailand, Japan, Australia, Canada, the US and Europe photographing former political prisoners from Burma with the help of exiled organizations such as the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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