Thiha Yarzar was sentenced to death in 1991 for high treason. He spent nearly 18 years in five different prisons across Burma before being released in 2008. He is a founding member of the Thailand-based Ex-Political Prisoners Advocacy, Counselling & Training (Ex-PPACT) group. The book, ‘No Easy Road: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story’, is based on his time in jail.
I was arrested for the first time in 1987, and jailed for six months. I had signed a letter against the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) criticising its economic policy. But a month after my release, in on 17 March 1988, I was arrested again because of my involvement in student uprising of 13 March 1988. After my release in July 1988, I became one of the student leaders. Following the 1988 I fled to Thailand and joined the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), and secretly moved back and forth across the border. I got arrested for third time on 17 January 1991 and sentenced to death for high-treason.
I spent 17 years, 6 months and 16 days in five different prisons across Burma. Before this I was moved between four different interrogation centres over a period of 47 days. It was a nightmare. Mentally, it was a mixture of fear, anger and hatred. It was not possible to know whether it was day or night because I was in a dark room, but I could guess according the guards' voices. Physically, some parts of my body were broken.
To get information from me, they used various methods of torture. They would put me in a dark room for three days with very little water. But later, they allowed me to drink toilet water as much as I could whenever I was thirsty. Over those 47 days I think they gave me rice only six or seven times.
They would put sand into a rubber tube and beat me; they handcuffed my hands behind my back all the time when they interrogated me, and my head was covered with hood; they threatened to arrest my family. They would punch or slap my face, kicked me in the ribs, and back sometimes in my face. My nose was broken and I bled from nose and mouth whenever they interrogated me. They rolled a wooden bar across my shins. Sometimes my hands and ankle were tied up with two poles horizontally, and they swung me like I was a cradle. At the same time, two men would kick me from both sides.
They stopped the torture when I was silent; when I made no sound, as if I was dead. They were afraid of my silence. And they realised that I would tell them nothing. Therefore they stopped the torture. In prison, they beat us. I was sent to the dog cell or punishment cell for three months in shackles and an iron chain. They allowed me to shower for five minutes once a week.
At the interrogation centre, they sometimes took me out of the dark room to the interrogation room, and did nothing but chat among themselves about Aung San Suu Kyi, saying she had surrendered, that is a slut and had tempted the security guards, and so on. They came to me and told me that my wife committed suicide, and my daughter had died. Sometimes I was not taken out of the dark room for two or three days. But I heard nothing from the guards, as if they were not there. No sound, as if I was the only human in the world.
When I got arrested, I was suffering from malaria and a 38C temperature. A doctor came and checked me and said, "He cannot die of malaria". Then he left, without giving me medication. The interrogators said to each other, "If he dies of our torture, we can say he died because of malaria". Medical treatment was far from me.
My left leg is still painful when I run. Actually, I cannot walk properly. I just pretend as if there is nothing wrong with my leg. I get migraines, and am a bit deaf. Mentally, it's so difficult to trust people.