BurmaNet News, October 1, 2010
editor at burmanet.org
Fri Oct 1 14:59:02 EDT 2010
October 1, 2010 Issue #4054
AP: Myanmar abuzz over possible release of Suu Kyi
Canadian Press: Myanmar junta blames latest blast on groups trying to
disrupt Nov. 7 elections
Irrawaddy: Censors bar reporting of Suu Kyi's voting right
ON THE BORDER
DVB: Burmese troops clash with Karen, Shan armies
BUSINESS / TRADE
AFP: Myanmar junta boss visits Laos: official
Jakarta Globe: Acting in the face of danger
Irrawaddy: Burma's Nargis children unhappy in Sri Lanka
AFP: US lawmaker sees ploy in Suu Kyi release plan
Independent (UK): Scepticism over plan to 'free' Aung San Suu Kyi
VOA: Activists demand Australia condemn Burma abuses
WebWire (US): AP Archive signs exclusive deal with Democratic Voice of
Burma for archival video footage in Burma
Washingtonian: I'm an American Marisa M. Kashino
October 1, Associated Press
Myanmar abuzz over possible release of Suu Kyi
Yangon, Myanmar The detention of Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu
Kyi expires early next month, but officials said Friday that only the
ruling junta chief knows exactly when she will be granted freedom.
The Nobel Peace laureate has been locked away for 15 of the past 21 years,
ever since her opposition party swept the country's last elections in
1990, and the military refused to cede power.
Her latest term of house arrest ends Nov. 13, just days after the junta
plans to hold the first elections since those ignored polls timing that
analysts say is hardly coincidental. There is wide speculation the junta
will release her as an olive branch to the international community after
its expected win in elections that many observers have decried as so
rigged as to be meaningless.
But Suu Kyi's detention is considered a matter of national security and
officials say any decision to release her would be made at the last-minute
by Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the junta chief.
"We can assume that she will be released on Nov. 13, but we cannot say
with certainty that it will happen. Only the junta chief will know if or
when the release can happen," said one of two officials interviewed. "It
is too early to say that she will be released on Nov. 13."
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy opposition party is boycotting the
elections, which it calls unfair and undemocratic. As a result of not
registering for the polls, the party has been dissolved, leaving no group
that can effectively challenge the junta-backed party, which is expected
to sweep the polls.
Critics call the country's first elections in two decades a sham and say
the military shows no sign of genuinely relinquishing power.
The London-based rights group Burma Campaign UK issued a statement to
express caution over recent reports about Suu Kyi's imminent freedom.
"We'll believe it when we see it," said Mark Farmaner, the group's
director. "Regime officials have said similar things in the past, and Aung
San Suu Kyi has remained in detention."
If Suu Kyi is released, it would be wrong to attach too much political
significance to it, Farmaner said.
"She has been released twice before without there being any political
change in the country," he said. "It is more likely that the dictatorship
will try to use her release to attempt to persuade the international
community to relax pressure on them."
The international community has long demand the release of Suu Kyi and
more than 2,100 political prisoners.
October 1, The Canadian Press
Myanmar junta blames latest blast on groups trying to disrupt Nov. 7
Yangon, Myanmar Myanmar's military government said a bomb explosion
damaged a local municipal office and blamed "political opportunists" of
stepping up violence to disrupt next month's elections, state media
The state-controlled Myanma Ahlin newspaper said the blast occurred
Wednesday evening in Bago, 50 miles (80 kilometres) north of Yangon. The
device was described as a time-bomb made of TNT that blew a hole in a
fence-like wall outside the local council office and shattered two office
windows. No one was hurt.
The report blamed two other recent attempted attacks the discovery of a
bomb near a Yangon tourist market and mines at a power grid outside the
city on a wide variety of anti-government groups.
It accused "insurgents, destructive elements and political opportunists
who are trying to ramp up instigation and destructive acts with the aim of
disrupting the upcoming multiparty democracy election."
Myanmar's first election in two decades will take place on Nov. 7. Critics
say the polls are a sham designed to cement military rule. The country has
been ruled by military governments since 1962.
Reports in Myanmar newspapers are viewed as reflections of the junta's views.
Wednesday's explosion occurred a day after Myanmar's prime minister warned
citizens to protect the country's image during November elections and to
prevent anyone from derailing the vote.
The junta's biggest perceived threat is the popularity of detained
pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, even though she remains under house
arrest and her opposition party is boycotting elections.
Suu Kyi has been in jail or under house detention for 15 of the past 21
years. Her latest term of house arrest expires Nov. 13, just days after
October 1, Irrawaddy
Censors bar reporting of Suu Kyi's voting right
Burma's press censors have barred domestic news agencies from reporting
about pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's name appearing on the
electoral role in the November election, according to sources in Rangoon's
An executive editor from a news journal told The Irrawaddy that when
private journals tried to report that Suu Kyi and her companionsKhin Khin
Win and Win Ma Mawere included in the voters' list of No.1 Golden Valley
Ward, Bahan Township in Rangoon, the Ministry of Information's Press
Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) prevented them from doing so.
The PSRD didn't allow us to report about Suu Kyi getting the right to
vote because it didn't want to see her name in the media. In fact, news
about a person's voting right would not affect anyone, the editor said,
adding that Suu Kyi was not included when the eligible voters' list was
first announced on September 20 but her name was added on Sept. 23.
On Monday, however, the English version of The Myanmar Times reported that
Suu Kyi and her companions were included on the electoral roll but Suu Kyi
could only cast her vote in advance since she was under house arrest. The
Burmese-language edition of the same publication and other Burmese media
were prevented from reporting the story.
Apart from restricting mention of Suu Kyi's name and news related to the
1990 election and the National League for Democracy on the media, the PSRD
reportedly continues to bar any reporting that criticizes the 2008
Constitution and negative opinion regarding the upcoming election.
There is no freedom of information in the country, though private media
constantly struggles against the restrictions, said a journalist in
Rangoon, doubting that private media will be allowed to freely report
during the election.
The PSRD issued a directive in July warning private media to be careful
carrying news about the election laws and the Constitution, saying that
any criticism and incorrect reporting on these issues would lead to a
permanent revocation of publishing permit.
A politician in Rangoon said that without media freedom the coming
election in Burma cannot be free and fair.
The PSRD also reportedly forced news journals to carry articles saying
that calling for an election boycott contravenes the election law and can
be punished with a 5-20 year prison term and a 100,000 kyat [US $107]
The PSRD reportedly also censored news about the Union Solidarity and
Development Party (USDP) using the state budget for election campaign
activities such as road construction and giving out loans and has removed
news related to the number of confirmed voters for the USDP and its
attempt to collect advance votes.
Thirty-seven political parties, including the USDP lead by the military
regime's incumbent premier Thein Sein, will contest the election on Nov.
ON THE BORDER
October 1, Democratic Voice of Burma
Burmese troops clash with Karen, Shan armies
Fighting erupted yesterday between Burmese troops and a breakaway Shan
force only hours after a Burmese soldier died following an ambush by a
It is the third time this month that Burmese troops have clashed with the
Shan State Army (North), with tensions appearing to be on the rise. The
latest flare-up involved the SSA-Ns 3000-strong 1st Brigade, which broke
away from the main body after it refused to become a Border Guard Force
(BGF) and assimilate into the Burmese army.
The ruling junta, which is attempting to rein in Burmas multiple ethnic
armies, has warned that refusals such as these will be met with force.
Casualties from the latest fight, which broke out in Hsipaw township in
northern Shan state yesterday morning, are unknown.
It follows an ambush by the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) on
Burmese troops yesterday morning in which one Burmese soldier died, said
Colonel Khin Maung Tun of the KNLAs 6th Brigade.
He said that three columns of Burmese army troops were ambushed between
Apalon and Myaing Thaya in Burmas eastern Karen state, about 22
kilometres from Payathonzu, across the border from Thailands Three
Three Burmese troops were killed and six wounded after a similar clash in
Karen states Hlaingbwe township, he added.
The conflict between the Burmese junta and the Karen National Liberation
Army has stretched over six decades, and is thought to be one of the
worlds longest running. Both the Karen and Shan armies are vying for
autonomy from the military government.
BUSINESS / TRADE
October 1, Agence France Presse
Myanmar junta boss visits Laos: official
Hanoi Myanmar's junta leader Senior General Than Shwe arrived in
communist Laos Friday and briefed the neighbour on preparations for his
country's first elections in two decades, an official said.
"He arrived this morning," Khenthong Nuanthasing, the Laos government
spokesman, told AFP.
Khenthong described the three-day visit, Than Shwe's third to the country,
as "a friendly, official visit" focused on the two countries' ties.
Than Shwe, 77, landed in Laos a day after officials in his country said
democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will be released in November, just days
after the elections.
Suu Kyi's release was not discussed when Than Shwe met Laotian counterpart
President Choummaly Sayasone, Khenthong said.
"But of course the senior general reported to the Laos president on
current preparations for the election," he said.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, has been detained for most of the last 20
years since winning the country's last poll in 1990. She will be freed
when her current house arrest expires on November 13, the unnamed sources
The election is on November 7.
Neither Suu Kyi nor her National League for Democracy (NLD) party will
participate in the vote, which opponents have dismissed as a sham aimed at
hiding military power behind a civilian facade.
On Saturday Than Shwe will visit southern Laos "to observe socio-economic
development," Khenthong said.
A Myanmar official in the capital Naypyidaw described the trip as "just a
October 1, Jakarta Globe
Acting in the face of danger Ade Mardiyati
Bobo not his real name knows all too well what it means to live
dangerously. The 23-year-old is a rights activist from Burma, a country
ruled by a repressive military junta. He cannot use his real name in
public, nor can he have his photo taken.
Bobo became an activist after finishing high school. Moving around for
security reasons is the norm for him.
The Burmese government has been relentlessly pursuing him for years now
and wants him detained.
They tried to get me at my parents house twice and once at my
grandmothers, he said.
Every time I hear of a friend getting arrested, I have to move to a new
place because by that time, [the government] has gotten some information
He is currently living in a safe house at an undisclosed location in
Thailand.  Safe house means a place where you go into hiding when
something happens, he said.
Since 1962, Burma has been ruled by the Burma Socialist Program Party as a
one-party state. The regime uses Soviet-style governance to control its
In 1988, the country was racked by large demonstrations resulting in
violent, often fatal, government crackdowns.
Bobo is a member of Generation Wave, an opposition youth organization
dedicated to overthrowing the junta by encouraging all Burmese citizens,
mainly its youth, to fight for democracy.
Part of the groups activities include scattering leaflets in public
places from moving buses, splashing red paint on bridges and roads,
spraying graffiti on walls demanding the release of pro-democracy leader
Aung San Suu Kyi and protesting against the upcoming election in November.
Generation Wave is also known for using music in its advocacy. Members
write lyrics mainly about democracy and human rights, which they put to
hip-hop, slow rock and R&B beats.
Comprised of members from various ethnic groups, Generation Wave was
officially formed on Oct. 9, 2007, shortly after the Saffron Revolution
where thousands of Burmese monks in their saffron-colored robes marched in
the streets to protest the ruling junta.
Bobo and another organization member were in Jakarta this week in a bid to
drum up support from Indonesia.
They participated in a forum, Good Neighbors? The Role of Asian Countries
in Bringing Positive Change to Burma, organized by the KBR68H radio
networks regional current affairs program, Asia Calling.
Other speakers at the forum included political scholar Rizal Sukma, who is
executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies,
and Harn Yawnghwe, the youngest son of Sao Shwe Thaike, the first
president of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma.
Sao, along with Aung San, the father of Suu Kyi, were credited for the
1947 Panglong Agreement, which was the basis for the modern nation of
Bobo said that while many Burmese dont like the government, they have no
idea what to do about the situation. Many dont even know what their
rights are, he said.
Just like us, before we became activists, we didnt know what our rights
were. But at the time, we also felt that we didnt like the government,
the ruling regime. Then I realized I had to do something.
In three years, Generation Wave has managed to achieve some of its goals,
There are more people, especially the young generation, [who are] now
aware of what is happening in their country. Many are also active in
politics, he said, a smile on his tired-looking face.
Bobo said the Burmese government viewed his group as troublemakers.
There are similar activist organizations [like Generation Wave] in Burma,
but we have done a lot in the past two years, he said.
And we are happy that our methods of sharing information with the people
are being followed by other groups. The government is scared of us.
Generation Wave has also been actively building networks with other groups
in Southeast Asia to help put pressure on Burma.
I know they are concerned about the Burma issue and they condemn our
government. But thats all. No action, only talking, Bobo said.
How can you see another country stay poor and in war while you live in a
Indonesia, Id openly say, is a little weaker if compared to Thailand in
giving support to Burma, he added.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Burma, has
fruitlessly called on the Burmese junta to move toward democracy.
Asean, however, has refrained from exerting stronger pressure on the
junta, which has earned criticism from many rights groups.
As an activist, Bobo has learned to always be alert. There are many spies
around you. They can be only meters away, he said.
Youll never know because it isnt written on their forehead, We are
Despite some victories, the organization has seen 23 of its members
arrested and detained. One person was released after he was granted
amnesty, Bobo said.
The government said its because of amnesty, but [its a game for
them]. They want to show to the international community, We are releasing
a political prisoner.
Our friend told us about what happened to him in the prison. He lived in
a very small room, about 10 square feet, where they tortured him
physically and mentally.
"They only allowed him to go out of the room for one hour each day. They
made him drink chemical liquid, beat him on his head, his legs, something
When the man was released, Bobo said that he not only suffered from
physical problems, but mental problems as well.
He just doesnt look normal, like hes thinks a lot about something. He
doesnt go out anymore. He is depressed.
Its not the torture [that we are scared of], because they wont kill you
as they need information from you. Its the fact that I wont be able to
do anything that scares me the most, Bobo said.
In Burma, Bobo said that a murderer can be given a seven-year prison
But the consequences for activists can be much harsher.
One of the guys who was a student distributed leaflets about human
rights. He was arrested and sentenced to jail for 104 years, he said.
Some student leaders were arrested and got 65-year sentences, some 95
Bobo said that to avoid more arrests, one key safety element is group
communication. Members have to be reachable by phone. If I cannot contact
[a member], that means he has been arrested, Bobo said.
Good communication is also required in the recruitment of new members. We
dont start by saying something like, We have to fight like this.
Instead, we start by asking them how they are doing, how is it going with
their job. They will usually say, Oh, its difficult because of the
You have to find the entrance point to convince them, he said. But what
makes it easier for us is most of our members are friends, or friends of
our friends, so we can trust them.
Bobo has chosen a difficult life. Does he ever tire of it? Kind of, he
Being an activist means you wont be able to sleep much and you lose your
personal life. When I feel depressed, I just want to be like ordinary
people who can go out with their friends or girlfriends. They can go
freely, although they have no future in Burma.
Before I was an activist, I used to go around with my friends. I only had
a small amount of money, but I was happy.
At the same time, Bobo said that he knew this was a fight someone had to
If we dont fight the current situation, the next generation will only
get poorer and poorer.
October 1, Irrawaddy
Burma's Nargis children unhappy in Sri Lanka Saw Yan Naing
Around 100 Burmese children taken to Sri Lanka after cyclone Nargis are
reportedly unhappy in Sri Lanka and face financial difficulties returning
Thirty-five out of about 100 children who went to Sri Lanka are scheduled
to return to their parents in Burma on Nov. 15 with the help of the Sitagu
International Buddhist Missionary Center in Rangoon as the Burmese
government has failed to take any action.
Founded by prominent Buddhist monk, Dr Ashin Nyanissara, who is better
known as Sitagu Sayadaw, the center is trying to raise funds to bring the
children home, said Ashin Pyinya Thiha, a senior monk at the center.
Ashin Nyanissara finally decided to step in and help the children return
home, cooperating with the Burmese embassy in Sri Lanka, after the Burmese
government did nothing, said sources close to Burmese authorities in
The children, who are aged from 11 to 16, are unhappy in Sri Lanka, where
they have lived for more than a year and want to return to their homes.
We are having difficulties bringing them back and are collecting
donations to pay for air tickets, Ashin Pyinya Thiha said, adding that
each air ticket costs around US $350.
The childrennot all were orphanswere taken to Sri Lanka by Chandima
Thero, a Sri Lankan monk also known as the Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima,
from Irrawaddy Division in Burma after he ordained them as novices in
order to help them after Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.
Chandima Thero's website http://sites.google.com/site/samadhi21/said he
noticed the plight of a large number of needy and or abandoned children
while he was conducting relief work and construction in Metta Village in
Burma in the area devastated by cyclone Nargis in May 2008.
He ordained 100 of the suffering children as novices and sent them to
study in Sri Lanka with the aim of providing them a better future, giving
them computer and English language training. He requested the Burmese
government to let him take the novices to promote Buddhist activities
throughout Sri Lanka.
The website said the lack of appropriate accommodation had resulted in the
100 young male and female novices living temporarily at the Dharmacakkra
Childrens Home in Sri Lanka.
According to Ashin Pyinya Thiha, however, the children were separated into
isolated villages around Sri Lanka and had to work to survive.
Even siblings were parted from each other, Ashin Pyinya Thiha said.
Their parents were devastated upon hearing this news.
The childrenmore than 20 of them are girlswrote to the Burmese embassy
in Sri Lanka saying they were receiving no education and have to work hard
to survive, he said, adding that the girls feel especially insecure.
Burmese monks in Sri Lanka are now gathering some of the novices together
and looking after them in several different monasteries in Sri Lanka, said
a Bumese monk in Sri Lanka.
Speaking with The Irrawaddy from Sri Lanka on Thursday, Chandima Thero
said: The problem is some of the novices dont want to study and want to
go home, so they wrote a letter to the Myanmar Embassy saying they wanted
to return home.
The ambassador in Sri Lanka came to see the children and the embassy is
arranging for the return of some novices to Burma, he said.
Organized by the Theravada Samadhi Education Association, the organization
Chandima Thero founded in 1999, the Novices Education Project first
purpose is: Providing living expenses and education for the 100 Myanmar
novices currently residing at Dharmacakkra Childrens Home. $1,000 NTD
[New Taiwan Dollar] (or $35 USD) per month per novice.
The project intends to build appropriate hostels for them at Manelwatta
Temple, Bollegala, Kelaniya in Sri Lanka, the website said.
When Burma's military leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his wife visited in
Sri Lanka on 12-15 Nov. 2009, Chandima Thero was among Sri Lankan VIPs who
greeted them at Colombo Airport upon their arrival. He conducted a pirit
(Buddhist chanting blessing) to wish them a successful visit.
According to sources close to Burmese authorities in Rangoon, officials at
the Burmese Embassy in Sri Lanka wrote to Naypyidaw about the case, but
have received no official response so far.
If the first 35 children return to Burma on Nov. 15 as planned, about 70
will remain in Sri Lanka.
October 1, Agence France Presse
US lawmaker sees ploy in Suu Kyi release plan
Washington A US lawmaker active on Myanmar issues accused the military
regime Thursday of a ploy to legitimize upcoming elections after it
indicated it would free democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Officials in Myanmar, also known as Burma, said Aung San Suu Kyi would be
released in November just days after elections. She has mostly been under
house arrest since 1990, when her party swept the last elections but was
not allowed to take power.
"We've seen this 'catch and release' game by the Burmese junta before --
they release Aung San Suu Kyi to create a facade of change and then turn
around and unfairly arrest her again," said Representative Joseph Crowley,
a Democrat from New York who has championed the US sanctions in force
against the regime.
"If the military junta was really serious about making changes and
carrying forward fair and democratic elections, they would release her
now, along with the other members of her party."
"Unfortunately, the claim that they may release her is a ploy to
legitimize these unfair elections, and further proof that the junta will
do or say just about anything to maintain power," Crowley said.
Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is boycotting the
November 7 elections, calling them a sham to legitimize the junta's rule.
US President Barack Obama's administration has also cast doubt on the
credibility of the elections, even though it initiated dialogue last year
with the junta aimed at coaxing it out of isolation.
However, India's national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, said
Thursday in Washington that the election may be a "significant step"
toward democracy. India has also recently switched to a policy of engaging
October 1, The Independent (UK)
Scepticism over plan to 'free' Aung San Suu Kyi Andrew Buncombe
Could detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi be released after
polls scheduled to take place next month?
Activists have questioned a report that says Burmese officials have
declared their intention to release the Nobel laureate when her current
term of house imprisonment concludes on 13 November.
But a news agency report quoted two unidentified officials saying she
would be set free, six days after the election planned for 7 November.
"November will be an important and busy month for us because of the
election and because of Aung San Suu Kyi's release," the Agence
France-Presse quoted a Burmese official as saying.
Another unidentified official said: "She will be released on that day
according to the law."
The 65-year-old and her National League for Democracy party will play no
role in the election, which many Western observers believe will further
cement the position of the military. Her party voted to boycott the polls
because it said they could not be considered fair while so many political
prisoners remained behind bars. Ms Suu Kyi will also not be permitted to
Last night, Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK, questioned the report.
"We hope this report is correct, but regime officials have said similar
things in the past and Aung San Suu Kyi has remained in detention," he
said. "We'll believe it when we see it."
He said even if she were released it may not be as significant as was
assumed. "She has been released twice before without there being any
political change in the country," he explained.
"It is more likely that the dictatorship will try to use her release to
attempt to persuade the international community to relax pressure on
October 1, Voice of America
Activists demand Australia condemn Burma abuses Phil Mercer
Sydney Democracy advocates in Australia are calling on the government to
publicly condemn Burma's November national elections. Activists say
authorities in Canberra must do more to put pressure on Burma's military
leadership to adopt democratic change. Phil Mercer reports from Sydney.
Three years ago, Burma's military leaders unleashed a brutal crackdown on
protesters who were demanding peaceful democratic reform. Street
demonstrations led by monks attracted tens of thousands of people before
they were suppressed by the Burmese army.
Democracy advocates in Australia say the Canberra government must be more
forceful in its condemnation of the continued harassment and imprisonment
of human rights activists in Burma ahead of next month's national
Activists insist that ministers must state that Burma's elections will not
be considered legitimate unless all political prisoners, including
democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are released, the constitution is
reviewed and campaign restrictions are lifted.
Australia has repeatedly urged the Burmese authorities to begin genuine
political reform and national reconciliation. Since October 2007,
Canberra has implemented targeted sanctions against members of the Burmese
government following its violent response to peaceful protests.
Burma Campaign Australia spokesperson, Zetty Brake, says Australia should
be doing more to encourage true democratic reform in Burma.
"It has been three years and unfortunately the human rights situation has
not gotten better since the Saffron Revolution," Brake said. "The number
of political prisoners has doubled as one example of how this situation
has gotten worse and the elections in November, the first in 20 years,
will not change this. So, what we are calling on the Australian
government to do is to take a stronger stance than it has on the election
so far and to say that these elections will not be credible or legitimate
unless a number of benchmarks set by the democracy movement are met in
advance and these benchmarks include the release of all political
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says despite its
"grave and long-standing reservations" it would not "pre-judge the
election process or outcome".
Australia has diplomatic relations with Burma, although bilateral
relations have been strained by Canberra's concerns over the military's
"suppression of democracy" and its "disrespect" for human rights.
New Zealand is among several countries lending its support for a U.N.
Commission of Inquiry to be set up to investigate alleged crimes against
humanity in Burma. France, Canada and the Netherlands have also pledged
their backing as international opposition to the military leadership in
Burma accelerates ahead of November's elections.
October 1, WebWire (US)
AP Archive signs exclusive deal with Democratic Voice of Burma for
archival video footage in Burma
New York -- The Associated Press announced today that AP Archive has
reached an agreement with Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an independent,
nonprofit Burmese media organization, to license DVBs video coverage to
third parties around the world. With this agreement, AP Archive is the
only international news agency with the rights to sell DVBs archival
video footage of Burma from the past five years. This representation
agreement is of particular importance because Burma is preparing to hold
general elections in November for the first time in 20 years and the
footage includes coverage of recent anti-government uprisings.
The content partnership with DVB is the latest in a growing number of
significant partnerships with broadcast and media organizations that AP
Archive now represents, including ABC News, Chinese Central Television,
Vatican Television and WWF, the conservation organization. AP Archive
holds a large and growing amount of footage created by DVB and will add to
the collection with more footage from DVBs television archives.
Since the anti-government protests of 2007, there has been much
international attention on this complex nation, said Alwyn Lindsey,
director of international archives for Associated Press. Democratic Voice
of Burma produced strong video coverage of those events, and continues to
do so, complementing APs own coverage.
The archival footage includes anti-government protests, widespread damage
caused by Cyclone Nargis and its aftermath, and the continued detention of
pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
AP Archive is well regarded within the footage industry and we are happy
to be partnering with them. This agreement will allow us to concentrate on
our core television operations, whilst knowing that our footage is
available for producers to access and use, Aye Chan Naing, chief editor
of DVB, said.
About AP Archive
AP Archive is the video footage collection of The Associated Press, with
material dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century. With an archive
of over 700,000 stories, it is rich in its coverage of events, war and
conflict, politics, disasters, environment, culture, social history, human
interest, science, entertainment and sport. The collection is updated
daily with the global news coverage of AP Television News and contains
footage from many major content partners including ABC News, Australian
Broadcasting Corporation, and China State Television.
About The AP
The Associated Press is the essential global news network, delivering
fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms
and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the largest and most trusted
source of independent news and information. On any given day, more than
half the worlds population sees news from AP. On the Net: www.ap.org.
About Democratic Voice of Burma
Democratic Voice of Burma is a nonprofit media organization based in Oslo,
Norway, run by Burmese journalists from both inside and outside the
country. DVB has been broadcasting uncensored daily television news since
2005, providing footage that is not otherwise available to people inside
the country as well as international news media organizations.
October 1, Washingtonian
I'm an American Marisa M. Kashino
When democracy advocate Nyi Nyi Aung was arrested in Burma, it took a
determined Washington lawyer to get him home.
Thousands of miles from his home in Gaithersburg, Nyi Nyi Aung sat in a
courtroom within Insein Prison, a jail in Rangoon, Burma. He listened as
the judge handed down his sentence-three years including hard labor.
Nyi Nyi felt no fear or panic, only relief. For the first time since his
arrest in the Southeast Asian country five months earlier, he was certain
that US authorities would soon step in and rescue him. He was the only
American political prisoner in Burma, and embassy officials in Rangoon had
indicated that the United States was waiting for his trial to end before
taking action. Nyi Nyi returned to his cell and went to sleep.
Around 3 am, guards woke him, put shackles on his wrists and ankles, and
led him onto a public bus. They didn't tell Nyi Nyi where he was going. He
felt embarrassed as the other passengers stared at him, chained up like a
criminal, so he said loudly, "I am Nyi Nyi Aung. I am an American citizen
and a democracy activist." Some passengers gave him a silent thumbs-up.
But their support was of little comfort. For 6½ hours, the bus rattled and
bounced along dirt roads to Prome Prison, a rural jail surrounded by rice
fields. By the time the journey was over, Nyi Nyi doubted he would see his
fiancée or the suburban townhouse they shared ever again.
Thousands of Americans are imprisoned abroad every year, according to the
State Department, which can't provide a precise figure because it relies
on individual embassies to track arrests, many of which are never
reported. While it's easy to assume that carrying a US passport ensures a
certain level of protection, when Americans travel to foreign countries,
they're at the mercy of local laws. In most arrests of citizens abroad,
all that the US government will do is notify the families and provide a
list of local attorneys as well as an explanation of the country's
But prisoners such as Nyi Nyi (pronounced "nee nee") who are jailed on
politically motivated charges without possibility of a fair trial stand
little chance of coming home without diplomatic intervention. A few grab
national attention, such as journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling-sister of
television reporter Lisa Ling-who were detained in North Korea last year.
Both were employees of former Vice President Al Gore's media company and
were ultimately rescued by former President Bill Clinton.
But the families of prisoners without such high-level connections must
figure out other means of raising awareness about their loved ones and
making them a priority for the State Department. Luckily for Nyi Nyi, he
had help in Washington.
In his office in DC's Penn Quarter, lawyer and lobbyist Jared Genser was
puzzling out the best strategy to get his client released. Though the two
had never met, Genser had been engrossed in Nyi Nyi's case for months,
making phone calls, firing off e-mails, and trekking to Capitol Hill and
the State Department to get officials to press the Burmese to free Nyi
The ordeal was all too familiar to Genser. He had helped free other
political prisoners in Burma as well as in China, Pakistan, Egypt, and
Genser's career spans two worlds. He is a partner in the
government-relations practice of the law firm DLA Piper, where the average
partner takes home $1.2 million a year. But he devotes his spare time-if
you can call it that-to Freedom Now, a nonprofit he founded that provides
pro bono legal, public-relations, and lobbying help to political prisoners
around the world.
Genser, who grew up in Montgomery County, became interested in
human-rights work as a graduate student at Harvard's Kennedy School of
Government in 1997 when the Chinese president spoke at the school. Harvard
announced that protesters wouldn't be allowed on campus during the speech.
"That galled me, the idea of him traveling in his own totalitarian
bubble," Genser says. He skipped class for two weeks to help organize a
protest of the tightly controlled appearance. Five thousand people showed
up at the demonstration, but Genser was left wondering if it mattered.
"There's nothing wrong with yelling and screaming and waving banners," he
says, "but did that have any meaningful impact?" The experience convinced
him he needed a law degree to make a real difference.
During his second year at the University of Michigan School of Law, Genser
spent a semester in England, where he read about a British man, James
Mawdsley, who had gone to Burma to protest human-rights abuses and ended
up with a sentence of 17 years in solitary confinement. While in England,
Genser contacted Mawdsley's family.
When Genser returned to Washington that summer, he reached out to friends
working on Capitol Hill, and together they got six senators and 28 members
of Congress to sign a letter to the Burmese government calling for
Mawdsley's release. Back in Michigan for the fall semester, Genser
received word that his efforts had paid off and Mawdsley was being let go.
Genser caught a flight to London and was at Heathrow Airport to watch
Mawdsley reunite with his family.
"That was the most professionally satisfying moment one could ever
imagine," Genser says. "That's when I got hooked."
Genser learned of Nyi Nyi's case through Wa Wa Kyaw, Nyi Nyi's fiancée and
a hospice nurse in Rockville. She had heard of Genser because he
represents Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition
leader, who is under house arrest in that country.
Though it was hard to predict how long it would take to get Nyi Nyi freed,
Genser had reason to be optimistic. In his experience, clients such as Nyi
Nyi-an American citizen jailed on trumped-up charges-were supposed to be
the easy ones. Convincing officials at State to push their contacts within
the Burmese regime to free Nyi Nyi would be essential to keeping him from
fading into obscurity among the more than 2,000 political prisoners held
in the country.
A few months earlier, another American, John Yettaw, had been arrested in
Burma for breaking into Aung San Suu Kyi's home. The Vietnam veteran
suffers from posttraumatic-stress disorder and had claimed he wanted to
warn her of a vision he'd had in which she was assassinated. Yettaw spent
three months in jail while he stood trial, but after he was sentenced, the
United States secured his release. President Barack Obama and Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton both made public statements about Yettaw, and
Virginia senator Jim Webb escorted him home from Rangoon.
If this was how an American who committed an actual crime was treated,
Genser thought, surely Nyi Nyi-who had done nothing wrong-would receive
similar, if not stronger, support.
Nyi Nyi and Wa Wa thought they had left the hardest parts of their lives
behind when they settled in the United States in the early 1990s.
Burma-which borders India, China, and Thailand and was once part of
Britain's Indian empire-has one of the world's worst human-rights records.
The regime has imprisoned thousands for holding pro-democracy views and
has beaten or killed countless others. While most Burmese people live in
poverty, the military leaders who rule the country exploit its natural
resources-including oil, natural gas, and copper-for their own financial
As a teenager in Rangoon, Nyi Nyi became a leader of the student democracy
movement. In 1988, he was arrested and jailed for a short time. He and 77
other demonstrators were crammed into a truck meant for 20 passengers and
hauled to Insein Prison. Several suffocated and died during the ride.
Wa Wa also grew up in Rangoon. She wanted to be a doctor, but during her
final year of medical school, in September 1988, nationwide demonstrations
broke out and the military took to the streets of Rangoon to restore
order. Wa Wa watched as student demonstrators were gunned down by soldiers
firing from the rooftops around her.
Nyi Nyi and Wa Wa, along with thousands of other Burmese students, fled to
Thailand. They met in Bangkok and became friends. In 1991, Wa Wa came to
the United States and settled in Montgomery County. Nyi Nyi followed two
years later. They fell in love and got engaged. Both became American
citizens. Wa Wa became a nurse, and Nyi Nyi worked in IT at the US Patent
and Trademark Office before returning to full-time democracy activism.
Over the past decade, he has worked with a number of groups that promote
democracy in Burma, helping with research and the training of student
Nyi Nyi knew that traveling to Burma was risky. In 2008, during one of his
trips to Rangoon to meet with other activists, military officers showed up
at his hotel, presumably to arrest him. After they asked for him at the
front desk, a receptionist he had befriended called his room to alert him.
He escaped out a back exit.
But Nyi Nyi decided to go back to Burma on September 3 of last year to
visit his mother, who has cancer and is imprisoned in a rural jail for her
own democracy advocacy. He needed to see her in person to know the extent
of her disease and try to make arrangements for better care. The Burmese
regime was denying her medical treatment, and from 8,500 miles away in
Gaithersburg, Nyi Nyi was powerless to help.
When Nyi Nyi stepped off the plane in Rangoon, he spotted two
military-security officers and knew right away they were there for him. As
they apprehended him, Nyi Nyi protested loudly to call attention to
himself. Otherwise, he feared, he would simply vanish.
"I'm just a visitor!" Nyi Nyi yelled. "I'm an American!"
After arguing for a minute or two, the officers brought him into a private
room. "You're a good actor," one of them said. "But we know you're
Nyi Nyi asked if he was being arrested, and at first the officer said no.
Then a higher-ranking officer entered.
"Nyi Nyi Aung," he said. It wasn't a question but an accusation.
"No, that's not me," Nyi Nyi said.
"We know who you are. We've been reading your e-mails," the officer said.
"We know you're friends with other activists and that you have colleagues
who are jailed here."
Nyi Nyi knew he couldn't fake it. "I am Nyi Nyi Aung," he admitted.
"What's wrong with me?"
The officers didn't answer. They handcuffed him and covered his face with
a hood, then put him in a car and drove him around for hours. He ended up
at a government-run interrogation center, where he was questioned and
beaten. He was held for two days and then moved to another interrogation
center for 12 more days. He subsisted on coffee and slept only when he
slipped into unconsciousness.
For the 12 days at the second interrogation center, he had to sit in a
chair with his hands chained to a table. The military officers kicked his
chair, sending him jerking back and forth so violently that they dislodged
a disc in his spine. They wanted Nyi Nyi to admit he was plotting against
"What are you planning?" they yelled. "Who is funding you?"
Nyi Nyi asked for a lawyer. He told his captors that he was an American
citizen. He said he wanted to see the US consul-the embassy official
responsible for protecting Americans in the country. For 17 days, the
requests were ignored and Nyi Nyi had no way of letting Wa Wa know where
Gathered on December 1 in a DLA Piper conference room with Wa Wa and Beth
Schwanke, another Freedom Now lawyer, Genser laid out a plan. He asked
Schwanke to manage the day-to-day tasks of the case.
Nyi Nyi faced charges that he had been carrying fake identification-though
he had his US passport and a valid visa with him-and failed to declare US
currency, even though he was detained before he'd had a chance to declare
anything at customs. An additional charge was tacked on later for Nyi
Nyi's failure to renounce his Burmese citizenship upon becoming a US
citizen-something he had never been informed was required.
The charges were an excuse to jail Nyi Nyi for his political activism, and
in Burma political prisoners have a 100-percent conviction rate. It wasn't
a question of whether Nyi Nyi would be found guilty but when.
Until the trial was over, Genser's main objective would be to raise Nyi
Nyi's profile and to convince the State Department to up the pressure on
the Burmese to send Nyi Nyi home.
Talking at his typical rapid-fire pace, Genser said the first task was to
set up meetings on Capitol Hill and at State to spread the word about Nyi
Nyi. The group was under a time crunch because Congress was going on
recess in less than three weeks. They would work the Hill to get a letter
sent before then from members of Congress to the Burmese government urging
Nyi Nyi's release.
Orchestrating such a letter was a usual first step in Genser's cases and
served to put the government detaining the political prisoner on notice
that American policymakers were watching. If Genser could get the right
members to sign-the ones from committees with oversight authority over
State-the letter could heighten the State Department's interest. And once
the letter was ready for delivery, he could circulate a copy to media
outlets in the hope of generating publicity.
The group debated whether to target the Senate or House for signatures.
Genser pointed out that the Senate was dealing with the health-care bill,
which meant staffers on that side were preoccupied. They had a better
shot, he said, at getting more signatures in a short time from the House.
At the State Department, Genser said, the key official was assistant
secretary Kurt Campbell, who handles US foreign policy with countries in
the Asia-Pacific region. Campbell had recently traveled to Burma, and
Genser assumed Campbell had mentioned Nyi Nyi in his meetings with Burmese
leaders. It was critical, Genser said, to find out from Campbell what had
been said about Nyi Nyi.
With the strategy mapped out, the meeting ended on a positive note. "I am
optimistic," Genser said. "It's just a matter of persistence. And we will
When Nyi Nyi was brought from the interrogation center to Insein Prison,
he was placed in an eight-by-ten-foot cell. He heard no voices or other
sounds from the surrounding cells, so he knew he was alone. His only
regular interaction was with the prison guards who brought him food.
One morning, a guard came in and Nyi Nyi started talking to him. "Why do
you stay here?" he asked. "Why do you wear that uniform?"
The guard answered, "I do it to feed my family."
"There are more important things than just surviving," Nyi Nyi said.
"Survival is what animals want. But we're humans, and we're intelligent.
We should want something more, like freedom and dignity and to do what's
The guard listened but said he was too scared to disobey the government:
"I can't lose this job. I have to keep my family safe." After that
conversation, though, the guard began sneaking Nyi Nyi extra food.
Nyi Nyi was grateful to have a toilet and running water. He remembered the
time he had spent in Insein as a student demonstrator in 1988. At least
things had improved since then. And he was finally allowed a visit from
the US consul, who sent word to Wa Wa that Nyi Nyi was alive.
After a month, Nyi Nyi was moved to an older section of the prison, built
when the British colonized Burma in the 19th century. These cells didn't
have flushing toilets, and the whole place stank.
There was one bright spot-Nyi Nyi was now surrounded by other prisoners,
and he used the opportunity to tell them about his democracy efforts. Each
day he spoke for at least 15 minutes about a different topic, loudly
enough so he could be heard through the cell walls. And each morning he
posed a new question, such as "What is the meaning of power?" and "What is
the meaning of fear?" In the afternoons they would discuss their answers.
Nyi Nyi told his fellow prisoners that even though they were locked up,
they could use the time productively. On December 6, he announced he was
going on a hunger strike to symbolize the Burmese people's hunger for
freedom and justice. He encouraged the others to join him, if only for a
That night, guards moved him back into solitary confinement as punishment
for the hunger strike, this time in a building that housed military dogs.
He was locked in his cell nearly 24 hours a day, listening to constant
Wa Wa often had nightmares about Nyi Nyi. In one, she dreamed he needed
medical treatment and was injected with a dirty needle. She woke up in a
panic and e-mailed the US consul to make sure Nyi Nyi hadn't received any
shots. The response terrified her: Nyi Nyi was on an IV glucose drip
because he wasn't eating. Wa Wa knew that doctors in Burmese prisons
sometimes reused old needles, and she worried Nyi Nyi would contract HIV.
After another restless night, Wa Wa got up early to take the Metro ride
from Gaithersburg to Capitol Hill. It was December 15-three days before
the congressional recess-and by 9:30 Wa Wa and Schwanke were racing
through the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building on the south side
of the Capitol, going door-to-door to each representative's office. The
letter to the Burmese government urging Nyi Nyi's release had been
completed the day before with the help of House staffers whom Genser had
recruited into the effort.
Democratic representative Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign
Affairs Committee, and Virginia Republican representative Frank Wolf were
the lead signers. Schwanke had e-mailed the letter to the 433 other
representatives along with a note asking them to add their signatures. As
a final effort to attract support for the letter, she and Wa Wa were on
the Hill to recruit signers in person.
Genser saw Wa Wa as an important asset. In previous cases, he and other
Freedom Now lawyers had had to work the Hill themselves to win over busy
congressional staffers. Because Wa Wa was local, she could advocate for
Nyi Nyi herself, and Genser was sure that staffers would have a harder
time turning her away.
At each office, Wa Wa and Schwanke asked to speak with the
representative's foreign-policy legislative aide. In most cases,
receptionists politely told Wa Wa the aides were unavailable, so she left
But every so often she got lucky. At Representative Bobby Rush's office,
the foreign-policy aide couldn't talk, but the legislative director-a
Wa Wa explained Nyi Nyi's story, trying to cram every detail into the few
minutes the legislative director could spare. She brought out photos of
her and Nyi Nyi. One showed them vacationing in London in matching
After reading the letter, the legislative director said he thought the
congressman would be willing to sign it. It was a small victory but
Wa Wa and Schwanke visited more than 60 offices that day. Schwanke,
Genser, and other volunteers made more than 800 phone calls to
congressional offices before the December 18 deadline for sending the
letter. Genser's goal had been to convince 40 to 50 members to sign. The
letter was sent with 53 signatures from representatives to Senior General
Than Shwe, leader of the Burmese regime.
Nyi Nyi learned of the letter during a meeting with the US vice consul in
Rangoon. He asked the vice consul to tell Wa Wa that he was grateful for
all she was doing. He had ended his hunger strike after nine days and was
no longer receiving the IV drip, but he was on antibiotics for an insect
Though the Burmese often denied Nyi Nyi access to the consul and vice
consul for weeks at a time, when they could visit they gave Wa Wa
immediate updates on Nyi Nyi's condition. They also provided Nyi Nyi with
small comforts such as reading materials.
But that was about all the consular officials could do. And though Genser
was pleased with their work, what he really wanted was for State's main
office in Foggy Bottom to up the political pressure on the Burmese.
Genser e-mailed assistant secretary of State Kurt Campbell to request a
meeting. The response from Campbell's assistant came three days later:
"Kurt Campbell has a very tight schedule, and he prefers that Consular
Affairs handle this matter."
The brush-off infuriated Genser. "This was not a simple case of an
American who got themselves in trouble in a foreign land and needed
consular services," he says. "This was a case where a person was
wrongfully imprisoned and wrongfully accused and would be wrongfully
convicted and sentenced for something they actually didn't do. And you
needed political engagement in order to spring that person out of that
Genser knew it was important to maintain a civil dialogue with State.
Still, his anger came through in the e-mail he sent back to Campbell's
office. He noted that Republican and Democratic staffers with an interest
in the case had kept him apprised of their briefings with the State
Department, and they were unhappy with the lack of attention on Nyi Nyi.
Genser mentioned State's handling of the other American recently jailed in
Burma, John Yettaw, who had been arrested for breaking into Aung San Suu
Kyi's house. Genser noted that his contacts on the Hill were concerned
that a white American who had actually broken the law had received
higher-level attention than a Burmese-American imprisoned on political
The implication of the e-mail was clear: State made the white guy a
priority but wouldn't do the same for the guy who looked foreign.
Campbell, along with deputy assistant secretary for Southeast Asia Scot
Marciel, agreed to meet with Genser, Schwanke, and Wa Wa on January 5.
By that time, Nyi Nyi had been detained for four months and the State
Department still had not publicly called for his release. One House
staffer, speaking anonymously because of the private nature of the State
Department's Hill briefings, says he felt "despair and dismay" after being
updated by deputy assistant secretary Marciel on State's low-key approach
to Nyi Nyi's case. Hill staffers also believed that Nyi Nyi's treatment
qualified as torture, whereas the State Department referred to it as
Assistant secretary Campbell declined to be interviewed for this story.
Another senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of
anonymity says State didn't believe the Burmese would respond well to loud
public statements about Nyi Nyi. "It was just our considered judgment that
we had some prospect of getting him out through quiet diplomacy," he says.
That included low-level communication between the US Embassy in Burma and
Burmese diplomatic officials in Rangoon and Washington.
The senior official says State didn't believe the Burmese ever intended to
detain Yettaw for long, making it less risky for Secretary Clinton to call
for his release. In Nyi Nyi's case, the official says, State felt the
Burmese regime viewed him as Burmese, not American, and thus intended to
hold him longer. State was concerned, says the senior official, that
issuing a public statement would only "harden the Burmese position."
The meeting on January 5 revealed another detail that troubled Genser.
Since Nyi Nyi's arrest, assistant secretary Campbell and deputy assistant
secretary Marciel had met with Burmese government officials in person
twice-once in New York and once in the Burmese city of Nay Pyi Taw. The
discussions were part of the United States' new policy-announced in
September, the month Nyi Nyi was arrested-of holding direct dialogue with
Burma rather than relying solely on sanctions to spur reform. Stated goals
of the new policy include improving the human-rights situation and
encouraging democracy in Burma as well as holding the regime to its
nonproliferation commitment amid concerns that the country is forming a
military relationship with North Korea.
In a dinner conversation during the trip to Nay Pyi Taw, Marciel mentioned
Nyi Nyi to the Burmese deputy foreign minister. But Campbell and Marciel
didn't raise Nyi Nyi's case during the official meetings between the
governments on either trip.
The senior State Department official says the talks, which were focused on
"the broader relationship" between the two countries, were "extremely
difficult and not very harmonious," so Campbell and Marciel decided that
addressing Nyi Nyi's detention at dinner would be more useful.
Genser wasn't satisfied with that explanation. "Do I think Nyi Nyi's case
should've been a central point of US-Burmese negotiations? Of course not,"
he says. "But the fact that there was only one American there being
wrongfully imprisoned and tortured deserved at least-as Campbell was
walking out the door of his meetings-saying, 'We're focused on this
American, and this is a serious problem for us.' "
A couple of weeks later, on January 22, Nyi Nyi's trial concluded. Now it
was a matter of waiting to be sentenced. Conditions in the prison had
gotten worse. Nyi Nyi's aunts, who live in Rangoon, had previously been
able to visit, but guards told him he was no longer allowed to see family.
Genser believed the window of time before Nyi Nyi's sentencing was the
moment for Secretary Clinton to speak up and demand that Burma send Nyi
Nyi back. Genser didn't care if Clinton chose to do this publicly. Private
communication between Clinton and high-ranking Burmese officials would
The State Department had elevated Nyi Nyi's case somewhat. Assistant
secretary Campbell had sent a message about Nyi Nyi to an official within
the Burmese military leader's inner circle. But Campbell is three levels
below the Secretary of State, and Genser didn't think a message from him
sent a strong enough signal. Again, he looked to Capitol Hill to put the
pressure on Secretary Clinton to call for Nyi Nyi's release, as she had
for other Americans jailed abroad.
He provided senators' and representatives' staffs with a detailed legal
analysis of the case against Nyi Nyi. As a result, several
lawmakers-including Nyi Nyi's congressman, Chris Van Hollen, and Maryland
senator Ben Cardin-were persuaded to send personal letters to Clinton.
Genser had high hopes for a letter from a pair of influential
legislators-Massachusetts senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Berman, chairman of House
Foreign Affairs. Their committees oversee all foreign-affairs issues,
including authorization of the State Department's budget.
The letter conveyed their concern that State's current approach "may
nevertheless be insufficient to demonstrate that securing the release of
[Nyi Nyi Aung] is a high U.S. Government priority," and encouraged
Clinton's "direct, personal involvement."
But Clinton never got involved publicly or privately. A little past
midnight on February 10, the US vice consul called Wa Wa to tell her that
Nyi Nyi had been sentenced. Wa Wa called Schwanke, who then told Genser. A
couple of days later, they got worse news. Nyi Nyi's aunts in Rangoon had
learned from officials at Insein that Nyi Nyi was no longer being held
there. The Burmese had transferred him, without notifying the US
government, from Insein to the rural Prome Prison. Upon learning this,
Genser filed a petition with the United Nations.
Despite this setback, according to the senior State Department official
who spoke anonymously about the case, around this time State was becoming
more convinced that its strategy of quiet diplomacy was working. The
official says that a week after Nyi Nyi's conviction, the Burmese asked
the State Department to send what's known as a diplomatic note through the
US embassy in Rangoon to the Burmese Foreign Ministry. Such notes are a
diplomatic tool used to make formal requests between governments. The
Burmese asked that the note contain a request for Nyi Nyi's release and
The State Department official says that because the Burmese are very
opaque about their intentions, State wasn't entirely sure why they wanted
the diplomatic note or what the outcome would be. "This is not a normal
relationship that we have with this government," he says. "We have limited
contacts. They generally don't share information. It wasn't that we were
superbly confident that everything was fine, but we had a pretty good
sense that some people in their government saw it in their country's
interest to release him."
Nyi Nyi, however, was no longer feeling anything close to hopeful. Prome
Prison was a bleak place. He was in one of seven solitary-confinement
cells, with a plastic bowl as his bathroom and the wooden floor as his
Nyi Nyi knew that American prisoners were not typically moved from Insein.
He was no longer sure if the US government would ever intervene, or even
if anyone knew where he was, because he had been denied consular access
since arriving at Prome. He was cut off from the world beyond his cell.
Genser decided it was time to take the fight public. On February 22, the
Wall Street Journal published a scathing op-ed written by Wa Wa
admonishing both Secretary Clinton and President Obama for their silence
about Nyi Nyi's torture and detention.
"When we became Americans, Nyi Nyi and I took an oath to 'support and
defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against
all enemies, foreign and domestic,' " she wrote. "And yet, to the U.S.
government, [Nyi Nyi] might as well just be one of the other 2,100
political prisoners languishing in a Burmese prison."
A few days later, Genser, Schwanke, and Wa Wa headed to NPR on DC's New
York Avenue to tape an interview about Nyi Nyi with Tell Me Morehost
Michel Martin. Genser fielded most of the questions, taking aim at State.
He brought up the higher level of attention given to Yettaw. Martin took
the bait, asking Genser if he really believed that Nyi Nyi's Burmese
origins made him less of a priority.
"The State Department would strongly and vigorously deny that," Genser
answered, "but I have yet to have a good explanation as to why the
On the same day as the NPR interview, Genser and Wa Wa met again with
assistant secretary Campbell and deputy assistant secretary Marciel along
with a few others at State. The officials had agreed to the meeting after
hearing that Wa Wa's Wall Street Journal op-ed was coming out.
According to Genser and Wa Wa, Campbell was furious about the article. "It
was totally inappropriate to me," says Wa Wa of Campbell's behavior in the
meeting. "He didn't even ask how I was doing."
Genser and Wa Wa told him they wouldn't have slammed the State Department
if they had been kept informed about what was happening with Nyi Nyi's
case. "It was the lack of communication," Wa Wa says. "After the last
meeting [on January 5], there was no communication. They didn't tell us
Genser says that when he asked Campbell why his e-mails and calls about
Nyi Nyi hadn't been returned, he was told it was because he couldn't be
trusted with sensitive information. "Bullshit," Genser says. "All I needed
was a simple response to an e-mail that just said, 'Trust us, something is
The senior State Department official, speaking anonymously, says he
doesn't want "to get into characterizing what people said" in the meeting,
but he doesn't deny Wa Wa's and Genser's versions: "What I would say is
there was a difference of views on the tactics."
But the meeting did yield promising news. The State Department officials
said they were getting what seemed to be encouraging feedback from the
Burmese regime. They asked Genser and Wa Wa to hold off on public
discussion of the case for four weeks. They aimed to have Nyi Nyi home by
Genser agreed to halt his efforts, but not for a day longer than those
The prison guards entered Nyi Nyi's cell on March 17, shackled his wrists
and ankles, and brought him onto the same public bus that had delivered
him to Prome more than a month earlier. Nyi Nyi's right leg was in
terrible pain. He thought maybe he was being taken back to Rangoon to see
When he arrived at Insein Prison hours later, he was put back into
solitary confinement, where he spent the night. The next morning, one of
the prison officers came in and told him to get showered because he was
leaving-not to see a physical therapist but to get on a plane to the
Despite the relief and joy of the moment, Nyi Nyi's thoughts wandered to
his mother, whom he had never gotten to see, and to the other prisoners he
was leaving behind. He knew that their suffering would continue.
But for Nyi Nyi, more than six months after the nightmare began, it was
over. On March 19, Wa Wa, Genser, and Schwanke went to Dulles to meet him.
Several family friends as well as a group of reporters who'd been notified
by Genser and Schwanke showed up outside international arrivals.
Bystanders wondered aloud if someone famous was coming.
Wa Wa looked like the sun had come up for the first time in ages. Months
of worry had melted off her face, and the black pantsuit that had become
her uniform for Hill meetings and interviews was gone. In its place was a
bright-blue cardigan over a lacy white top.
Nyi Nyi's flight was expected to arrive at 3:30, and everyone's eyes were
fixed on the announcement board that would show when United Flight 898
from Tokyo had landed. Finally, a low echo of "It's up" moved through the
crowd. Nyi Nyi was on the ground.
Wa Wa pressed herself against the low barrier separating the waiting area
from arrivals, trying to get a glimpse of Nyi Nyi. When he rounded the
corner, the crowd erupted.
He spotted Wa Wa and moved toward her, a bad limp keeping him from
running. They grabbed each other in a long embrace. A few feet away,
Schwanke attempted to snap photos as tears streamed down her face.
When Nyi Nyi and Wa Wa turned toward the reporters, Nyi Nyi's physical
condition became more apparent. He weighed barely 100 pounds, and his
dark-gray polo shirt and khaki pants drooped off his thin frame. Wa Wa
held onto him tightly, not only because she was happy to have him close
but also to help steady his shaking body.
For all his work on the case, Genser will likely never be able to say for
certain what finally brought Nyi Nyi home. But he can speculate. In part,
he and other observers in the human-rights community say, it was probably
a matter of lucky timing. Days before Nyi Nyi was let go, the Burmese
regime announced a harsh new election law that drew intense international
criticism. Freeing the only American political prisoner may have simply
been an attempt to deflect some of the heat.
But Genser is also convinced that the State Department's approach changed
within the weeks immediately leading up to Nyi Nyi's release. At that
second contentious meeting at State, Genser says, assistant secretary
Campbell made it clear that the engagement with the Burmese had
intensified only recently. "Up until that point, we had no indication of
what State was doing," Genser says.
He doesn't believe that State ever really thought the approach of
low-level, quiet diplomacy was in Nyi Nyi's interest: "If that's true,
that's naive and stupid. And if there's one thing I'll say about Kurt
Campbell, it's that he's a smart guy."
Rather, Genser believes State was trying to hold off jeopardizing the
broader goals of its new engagement policy with the Burmese by pushing
them too hard on Nyi Nyi.
On a spring day at home with Wa Wa, Nyi Nyi says he believes Wa Wa's op-ed
is what finally did it. The day he was freed, he remembers, the US consul
told him that the State Department had recently made "a top, high-level
request" for his release. Nyi Nyi believes the State Department waited to
make such a request until Wa Wa had spoken out.
His anger is palpable. "I have a question," he says. "Why didn't the US do
that earlier? Because I'm not born here?"
The State Department tells a different story. The senior official says he
isn't aware of any last-minute high-level requests, explaining that Nyi
Nyi's release was "the culmination of a multiple-weeks-even
months-diplomatic effort." Asked if State should have handled Nyi Nyi's
case differently, the official says, "I actually think we did a very good
job and got this guy out."
Nyi Nyi didn't contract any diseases in prison, though a couple of months
after his release he underwent spinal surgery. The leg pain was caused by
a herniated disc in his back-the result of the abuse he took in the
interrogation centers in September of last year. Doctors said Nyi Nyi
could have been paralyzed if he had gone much longer without treatment.
Though he's happy to have his freedom back, Nyi Nyi isn't satisfied. He
says his democracy work is more important than ever: "Now that I'm
released, I have more responsibility. I really wish for all people to be
And just a few months after returning home, Nyi Nyi is back at it. During
a meet-and-greet with his representative, Chris Van Hollen, to thank him
for advocating on his behalf, Nyi Nyi brings up the others still
languishing in Burmese jails. Nyi Nyi asks the congressman if he'll help
push for his sick mother's release.
"Well," says Van Hollen, "let's work with you on that now."
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