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An army officer pays the price for honesty in Myanmar

October 14, 2013

Ko Kyaw Han Htun dreamed of being a computer programmer. He loved technology and computers, but for a Yangon resident in 2003, job prospects in the field were slim. Instead, he joined the army.

Did he like it?

“Not yes and not no,” Ko Kyaw Han Htun said on October 9, a day after being released from Myaungmya prison in an amnesty.

He moved around the country with his battalion and it was while he was away from home that he accidentally found himself talking to a member of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. The ABSDF was formed in 1988 by students who fled to the border following a military crackdown.

“It was a student contact and I did not know until after that I was talking to [someone from the ABSDF].”

Ko Kyaw Han Htun was terrified, living in fear for the next ten months that his actions would be discovered and that his family would be punished along with him. “I turned myself in and admitted to my superiors what I had done,” U Kyaw Han Htun said, adding that he hoped his proactive confession would protect his family from any repercussions. “I was so worried all my family would be put in jail because of [what I had done].”

He was arrested and sentenced to 17 years in jail for his crime. Just 24 at the time, he was sent to Mawlamyine jail, in Mon State. While the majority of inmates at the prison were former army officers, there were some civilians as well, Ko Kyaw Han Htun said.

“I would meet my family once a month,” he said. His parents and elder brother would bring him food and supplies for bedding.

Inside and unable to maintain his former level of physical activity, U Kyaw Han Htun fell ill. An abscess-like infection developed on his right fibula and he endured months of painful swelling that prevented him from walking or standing.

After four years and five months behind bars, Ko Kyaw Han Htun was recognised as a political prisoner and released last week. “Now I cannot think of the future at all,” he said. “I want to do computer programming still, but now it is so long ago that I think I have forgotten everything I learned.”

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