(Interview) – Nyi Nyi Oo, an organizer of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Than-Haying Township, who was sentenced to death for plotting a bombing of the Than-Hlyin refinery and Rangoon City Hall. Later the real culprit confessed, but he had spent 23 years in prison for a crime he never committed. He was 24 when he was arrested. Now he suffers from hypertension and ischemic heart disease. He was released recently in the president's amnesty on October 12, 2011.
Question: How is your health?
Answer: I take regular medication for hypertension and ischemic heart disease. I have to take other medication for heart disease as well. I started suffering from such illness while I was in prison. The mental distress and pressure harmed me and I spent many years in a small room.
Q: Did you get proper medical treatment in prison?
A: The doctor gave me some medication for hypertension. He gave me Nephetamine 5, a yellow pill imported from China. I felt no better with that drug, and I asked my younger sister and later the NLD from Rangoon sent pills for me. I have been taking that those pills until now.
Q: What were you charged with? Why you were arrested?
A: They charged me with Criminal act 326/ 34 for causing an explosion and act 302/ 34 for murder with premeditation and accused me of trying to blow up the Than-Hlyin refinery. Moreover, I was charged with act 122/1, an offence for high treason.
Q: What were your political activities?
A: I took part in the 1988 upraising. When the NLD was founded in 1988-89, I went and applied to take responsibility to organize an NLD branch in Than-Hlyin Township. My uncle was with the NLD as well and now he is passed away. My uncle, U Myint Swe, asked me to do outreach activities for the NLD in rural areas. I stood as an NLD organizer and worked in 44 village tracts of the township.
Q: Can you explain how the charges occurred?
A: In 1989, while the NLD was campaigning for democracy, there was an all-township contest of Than-gja (amusing and satirical antiphonal chant) to be held in the compound of Aung San Suu Kyi's residence for Thin-Gyan (the Burmese water festival). I wrote some Than-gja prose and led the entertainment for my own team. I represented and contested as Than-Hlyin Township youth team. On April 21, 1989, the authorities tried to arrest me and searched my home, just after Thin-Gyan. They also surrounded my office.
I stayed away from the scene. I had been working NLD organizing activities while I was hiding from view around villages of Than-Hlyin. In 1989, in July, the NLD youth of Than-Hlyin published a book in memory of the 7th July massacre. Since there was a public meeting and talk, organized with other political organizations in Than-Hlyin, I returned back to town and attended. I heard a bomb explosion when I returned from the meeting. After then, I stayed in Tamwe of Rangoon at a friend's home.
Q: Do you mean you were avoiding arrest?
A: Yes. I was staying away from public view, because of my participation in the Thin-Gyan festival contest. The next day, youth from my township came to see me and informed me that there was a bomb blast yesterday at Than-Hlyin refinery. I should have returned back to town, since the authorities accused me of being involved in the plot. The youth knew that I was not guilty. Me and these seven youth signed together at Rangoon Division NLD office, that I was not guilty for that bombing. I explained the case to U Tin Maung Win, in-charge of the NLD Rangoon Division and Youth leader Ko Win Hlaing, and sent a letter to Aung San Suu Kyi as official information.
They suggested that I go back to Than-Hlyin and I should continue my work there. They reformed the Than-Hlyin Township NLD youth team and made me chief. I went back to the town. It was the day after the bomb blast on the 8th. I was finally arrested by NIB on July 12th, 1989 at Pha-ku village.
Q: Were you arrested in the village?
A: I was arrested in a teashop at the center of the village. An officer in plain clothes arrested me by pointing his gun to my head. Later I learned that while I was handcuffed down, an army unit was surrounding the whole area.
Q: Did any villagers cooperate with the arrest?
A: No. The National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) got information and they were waiting for me in the village. When I was arrested, I was carrying NLD organizing leaflets. I travelled from Day-Zat village to Pha-ku by ferry. I met with Dr. Tun Thu, an NLD officer from Pha-ku village at a ferry dock. He said he would bring some cold drinks and asked to me to wait at home. There is a bridge connecting Pha-Ku village and there is a teashop at the top of the bridge. I sat at the teashop and Yee Cho (NLD) and Ko Aung (NLD) from Than-Hlyin were sitting along with me. And a man in front of me came up and pointed with a gun to my head and asked "who are you?". He said they had to question me and I followed. The strength of security unit was full load of a navy boat.
Q: After your arrest, where did they take you?
A: I was brought back to Than-Hlyin to the Special Branch (SB) office. I was sent to interrogation center.
Q: How many days did you spend in the (interrogation center) Aung Tha-Pyay camp? How did they interrogate you?
A: There were five days--from 12th to 17th of July-- at the Aung Tha-Pyay camp. They checked my handwriting. When the political organizations published a book in our township, they published by gestetner duplicator with handwritten script. They asked to to write many samples and texts on different papers.
Later, they showed me a handwritten letter. It was addressed to U Kyaw Sein Win of the Than-Hlyin refinery. During that time, he was an engineer working at that refinery. The bomb was sent by parcel addressed to him. His son died in the incident. The letter was signed by Aung Naing. At the bottom, dated as 7-7-89 and the sevens were crossed at the middle. When I write the letter "seven," usually I don't check cross at the middle.
The letter’s handwriting style was not similar to mine. I was asked to copy that letter on a plain sheet. I copied it sincerely. They took a photograph and when they submitted evidence to the court, they used my copy and they sentenced me to death in the bomb plot.
Q: In the interrogation center, they just asked you to sign a paper or did they torture you?
A: I was tortured very badly until I confessed. They beat me again and again until I wrote in the same style. I was beaten while I was handcuffed. I still remember the numbers of the handcuff, which were 1073 and 1075.
Q: After you confessed, what did they ask you?
A: They asked me where did I get the things (explosives). If I named someone, they would go and arrest them. I had to think to tell the name of peoples who were not accessible to them. I had two friends; Kyi Myint has been in U. S. and Moe Thiha (a. k. a.) Naungyoo Thiha fled to the jungle. He fled there and he asked me to follow, but I remained in the country. I told them their names. Moe Thiha lived in Kyauk Tadar and Kyi Myint used to live in Than-Hlyin.
Q: Then where were you sent after Aung Tha-Pyay camp?
A: We were sent to Insein Prison on 17th and kept in Building 6, cell 1. I was sentenced on 27th by a military tribunal. After then, I was sent to the death penalty area, building-2.
Q: How many days did your trial last?
A: Just one day. They just hear the case and sentenced me. There was nobody representing me. It was military tribunal No. 1 and the chairman of the tribunal was Lt. Gen. Aung Nyunt from the air force. He asked me did you commit the offence, and I replied no. If you said so, he said he will change the remand to a later date. But the prosecutor and SB (Special Branch police) Myo Lwin demanded they sentence me immediately. Then the judge sent me back to the prison. At the afternoon, we were taken back to court and the judge read the charges and the "death sentence.” He was just reading a paper.
Q: How many people were arrested along with you?
A: Ko Than Zaw, Moe Kyaw Thu and two other activists were arrested on that night at Than-Hlyin. They had to pass through the same harsh interrogation. At that time, we didn't know each other. They were also kept in Aung Tha-Pyay camp.
Q: Which organization did they belong to?
A: They are NLD youth. When I took charge as township organizer, Moe Kyaw Thu was a youth organizer from Myo-Haung middle ward. Ko Than Zaw was from Myo-Haung west ward.
Q: After you were sentenced to death, where were you sent?
A: We were sent to Insein Prison, death sentence hall, building-2. It is a roll of cells with walking path in the middle. I was thrown in cell 57, Ko Than Zaw was in cell 59 and Moe Kyaw Thu was beside me, in cell 55. We were kept in separate cells. In front of me, U Win Tin was detained in cell-3, Taw Phaya Lay was detained in cell-5. Ko Khun Sai, a former medical student and famous activist in the 1974 protest was detained in cell-4, separately.
Q: How long did you spend in Insein?
A: I spent almost five years, from 1989 until June 1994. When I was in Insein prison, there were some in-prison demonstrations demanding the release of Aunty (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) in 1990 and calling for theregime honor the 1990 election results. We were beaten for that and sent to another cell.
Q: Later the government arrested the real culprit in these bombing, correct?
A: After sentencing us, Ko Ko Naing was arrested. Ko Ko Naing later confessed that he did the bombing in front of political community, NLD leaders and among the students. He claimed he held a rank of major in the Karen National Union (KNU). I don't know exactly, but that’s what he said.
Q: When did Major Ko Ko Naing confess? How was he sentenced?
A: I am not sure, possibly around October. I don't remember the date. After he was sentenced, he called me to cell 35 and told me the story. He said he confessed during his trial. We were not released, and he asked for forgiveness for what he did.
Q: Was he also the bomber of the city hall?
A: The intelligence group said that the two bombings were similar in pattern, in the City-Hall and in the Than-Hlyin refinery. They had already accused me in Than-Hlyin bombing and now Ko Ko Naing was accused only for City-hall bombing. Ko Ko Naing said he committed both bombings, but they imprisoned me for the Than-Hlyin bombing.
Q: Didn't you appeal for the authorities to release you?
A: We tried to appeal to the officers. Meanwhile, through Ko Than Zaw, he tried the case to reach the media and international community. Those papers were confiscated during a prison search.
Around 1989 and 1990, me and Ko Than Zaw were “docked” at the legs. Ko Than Zaw was docked and sent to a special cell, while I was sent back to building-2. Three prison staff were sacked for that, namely Ko San Maung, Maung Maung and another one. I don't remember his name.
Q: How many prisons were you in?
A: Two prisons, namely Insein and Taungoo. I spent 18 years in Taungoo prison. I was transferred to Taungoo on 24th June, 1994. I spent almost 5 years in Insein. Now I have spent 22 years and three months in prisons. As I was granted a year of prison-term deduction in the recent Thein Sein amnesty. I had to stay 23 years and three months exactly.
Insein prison was quite harsh for prison visits, but it depended upon the decision of prison chief. When a prison chief changes, the prison's policy can chang. There is no consistent policy.
When I was in Insein prison, my father and mother came to see me. When I was relocated to Taungoo prison, my father passed away. Later my mother passed away as well. My cousin, Zar Zar Myint Swe, usually visited me.
Q: When you were paralyzed?
A: It was in 2006 at Taungoo. I got a stroke after my blood pressure went to 190/130. My whole left side was paralyzed. The prison chief U Win Lwin brought an outside physician Dr. Mar Mar Kyi into prison to treat me immediately. I was supposed to receive an X-ray at an outside hospital, but it did not happened until my release. I have plans for a medical check-up.
Q: How do you feel about your interrogation and the people who accused you falsely and imprisoned you?
A: I was imprisoned while I was working in the National League for Democracy. I know that the NLD now has taken a policy of cooperating with the government on some matters to seek mutual benefits. I will continue my work under the party's leadership for the benefit of the country.