Ko Thet Oo was arrested for his activist work in 1993 and served a 12-year prison sentence. He went partially deaf after interrogation, and now wears a hearing aid. He is now a staff member at to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners–Burma (AAPPB).
I was arrested in 1993 for my protests against the regime’s National Convention. I had been contacted by the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), which was based in Thailand, and I distributed Khit Pyaing journals. They sentenced me to 20 years in jail, but I was released in 2005 after 12 years.
During that time I was kept in Insein prison (Rangoon) and Tharrawaddy prison (Bago division). Our cells were cramped – sometimes seven of us were kept in a cell 8 foot by 12 foot. It was difficult using the chamber pots and sleeping. At times we could leave our cell for two hours a day, other times we couldn’t.
I was deaf when I arrived at Insein prison because of the treatment I received under interrogation. Around the middle of 1994, when I couldn’t hear very well, I asked a chief medic from Insein prison to organise for surgery on my ears by a specialist. The medic said that they would make the arrangement, but it never happened. Although I continued to demand to be hospitalised, I wasn’t allowed to meet with a specialist until I was transferred to Tharrawaddy prison.
When I was transferred to Tharrawaddy prison, there was a prison doctor. He treated the political prisoners well. But when I asked him to arrange a meeting with an ear specialist, he said that would be impossible, and that I could only see a dentist.
There are doctors in the prison hospitals but there is very little medicine. The prison hospital just provided paracetamol and sleeping pills. Prison doctors would just write the instructions and all the prisoners had to buy medicine themselves – they weren’t allowed to have them without prison doctors’ instructions.
I witnessed the deaths from tuberculosis of MP, U Saw Win, and a member of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), Ko Nyunt Zaw. They both died in prison, but if they had been provided with adequate healthcare, they would have survived. I witnessed Ko Nyunt Zaw vomiting blood, and there was also blood in his diarrhea before he died.
In the end I left prison without having any treatment for my hearing. If I’d had the chance to be hospitalised then the problem would have been fixed. However, I was detained in prison for 12 years, so it is now too late to take care of my hearing. Now, I can’t hear at all without a hearing machine.
NB: According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners–Burma (AAPPB), 146 political prisoners have so far died in detention.