Wai Moe was jailed for nearly five years, three of which he spent in solitary confinement. He is now a senior reporter at The Irrawaddy Magazine.
At the age of 17 I was jailed for almost five years. I’d been studying at high school in Rangoon when they arrested me for my political activities – I’d been a member of the All Burma Students’ Federation Union (ABSFU) since I was 11, and we produced a ‘political culture’ analysis paper. Intelligence found the paper in my friend’s house, and under interrogation he gave my name away.
I was a month in interrogation, during which they beat me in the face and placed in the ‘motorcycle’ stress position. They tried to get me to confess who else was an ABSFU member. I spent time in two prisons – Insein and Mandalay – before being moved to Myingyan [Mandalay division] in 1995. It was here that that I spent three years in solitary confinement. They moved a number of political prisoners to ‘special prisons’ that year because Aung San Suu Kyi had been released and they were worried we might organise. They moved me however because I’d asked a prison official in Insein to stop beating prisoners.
Two of the political prisoners I was transferred with died in Myingyan. Prison authorities said one, Saw Yin Tint, committed suicide in 1996, but nobody knows. The other, Saw Eh Tha, died in 1998 of malnutrition.
When we were transferred to Myingyan, we were all put into individual cell blocks blindfolded. The cell there was 12 x 8 feet, with no window. The door is made of iron bars. Every prisoner is beaten one by one as you arrive. My father came to visit shortly after I was transferred to Myingyan. After he visited the first time, they beat me – it’s their introduction to the prison.
Sometimes if they wanted to punish you, they would refuse to clean your cell for one month. This meant the bucket we used as a toilet was just left in our cell. They would also forbid us from taking showers for a month. The shower was the only time we could leave the cell, for five minutes each day – we were given a bowl of water, and only prison guards could accompany us. When we walked passed other cells to the showers, all the other prisoners we ordered to sit with their backs to the cell door. This meant we really did see anyone for the whole time there, apart form family visits once every two weeks.
Once I had shackles placed on my ankles, and they didn’t remove these for seven months. They weighed more than 10 kilos, and became part of my body. Other times you were forced to clean the iron bars on cell door with cloth for four hours a day – 8-10am, and 2-4pm. This is physical and mental torture – there’s no reason for it, but if you refuse, you are beaten. And another punishment was being forced to catch flies with a plastic bag. If you can’t catch them, they will beat you or tie you in shackles.
Once or twice I was allowed to see a prison doctor, but they also treat prisoners like animals – they just look at you from a distance. If you’re ill they just give paracetamol, whether it is stomach problems or hypertension, both of which are common. Now I suffer from rheumatism and joint problems.