Myanmar: Profiles of Burmese women activists in hiding

Source: via PeaceWomen
Among the Burmese pro-democracy activists in hiding are many courageous and committed women who have played leading roles in the recent demonstrations against sharp price increases in fuel, which began on 19 August 2007.
Authorities have been hunting down at least two dozen activists. Pictures of leading activists, "wanted persons," have been distributed to checkpoints in Rangoon and other cities.
The Irrawaddy is honored to profile a number of these exceptional women activists who are on the front lines in the struggle for democracy in Burma.

Nilar Thein: "A Mother Longs for Her Baby"

Her painful breasts are swollen with mother's milk. But the brave mother-in-hiding and her hungry, 4-months-old baby are separated—perhaps for months or longer. “How can I express my terrible feeling of missing my baby?” Nilar Thein said from her hiding place.

Nilar Thein has the sympathy of her fellow activists and from those who know her and her baby, Nay Kyi Min Yu, who is being cared for by her grandparents. “When you have the feeling of your breasts engorged with milk it reminds you that your baby is hungry for your milk,” said a close friend of Nilar Thein.

The 35-year-old Nilar Thein, a member of the 88 Generation Students group, led a demonstration against the rise in fuel prices in Rangoon. Nilar Thein does not stay in one location for long, and she sometimes walks the streets alone. She always worries about where she can find a safe place to sleep. She constantly thinks and dreams of her daughter, now living with her mother-in-law.

Her husband, Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Jimmy, is also a leading member of the 88 Generation Students group. He was arrested and detained by Burmese authorities during the recent demonstrtions. Rumors swirled around his condition on Sunday, when there was speculation that he had died after being tortured by the regime.

Nilar Thein herself has been detained by Burmese authorities two times before. Her first arrest was in 1991, when she was jailed for two months. Her second arrest was in December 6, 1996, during a student demonstration. During the demonstration she slapped the face of a high ranking police officer who tried to block her way in the march.

Nilar Thein joined the Burma democracy movement as a high school student in 1988 as a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. She was sentenced to seven years imprisonment under Act of 5 (j), an emergency security act, and another three years imprisonment under Act 332 for slapping a policeman. She was released on July 6, 2005. She was detained in Insein and Tharrawaddy prisons.

Su Su Nway: "We Are Water in Their Hands"

Su Su Nway, a John Humphrey Freedom Award winner in 2006, has a serious heart disease. Normally, she receives medical treatment twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays.

But now, in hiding, she can't see her doctor. Su Su Nway doesn't venture out from her hiding place, and she is afraid to have her medical doctor visit her. Su Su Nway became a NLD youth member in 1990. Many Burmese people know of her fearless fight for the rights of people conscripted into forced labor and for farmers whose land has been confiscated by local authorities.

On August 28, she led a demonstration at Hledan Market in Rangoon’s Kamaryut Township where she was violently dragged away by thugs trying to arrest her. Fortunately, she escaped with the help of a Burmese journalist.

Her fight for democracy doesn't include hate. From her hiding place, she told The Irrawaddy by telephone: “We held the demonstrations not only for us but for all people, including those who beat us and tried to arrest us, including the police. Those violating us are also facing difficult daily lives. They have been used by the military regime because their lives are under military rule.”

Su Su Nway was jailed in October 2005 for "threatening and swearing at local authorities" and released in early June 2006, following appeals from the international community and the International Labour Organization.

In May 15, 2007, she was arrested while marching to a pagoda in Insein Township to pray for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. She was released in June.

In 2000, she launched a successful lawsuit against local officials, including the headman of Htan Manaing village in Rangoon Division, for organizing forced labor.

“Because we are in hiding does not mean that we are in retreat, but we worry that there will be no people to stand up for the people and to speak out if we all go to jail,” said Su Su Nway.

“We know we are water in their [the regime's] hands, and we can not escape for long, but before we get arrested we want to say what we should say during the time we are in hiding.”

Mie Mie: "An Activist While Still at School"

Mother of two children, Mie Mie was a leader of recent protest demonstrations, along with Nilar Thein and other women activists. “Though our leaders have been arrested, we will continue with our movement,” she told the Associated Press news agency during the demonstrations of August 23. “We will not fear any arrest or threat.”

Mie Mie was a pro-democracy activist while still a 16-year-old high school student at the time of the nationwide uprising in 1988, belonging to the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and the Democratic Party for a New Society. one year later, she was detained for four months because of her political activity.

During the 1996 student demonstrations, Mie Mie, a university student, was arrested and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. She spent about one year in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison and was then transferred to Tharawaddy prison in Pegu Division.

Eai Shwe Sin Nyut, who knew Mie Mie from her prison days and who now lives in exile, paid tribute to her fellow activist: “Mie Mie is an honest woman—brave and always standing up for truth. Even in prison, she always resisted the authorities and tried to get medicine for her sick friends.”

Phyu Phyu Thin: "Who Cares for Her HIV/AIDS Patients Now?

Phyu Phyu Thin, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy, is well known for her work with HIV/AIDS patients, many of whom are now in jeopardy because she is unable to care for them while in hiding.

One of her patients gave sanctuary to Phyu Phyu Thin during the demonstrations, she disclosed to The Irrawaddy from her hiding place. A monk who is HIV positive helped her evade arrest.

Phyu Phyu Thin was first arrested in 2001 during a visit to Mandalay by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She was detained for four months and four days.

She was arrested for a second time in May this year and was held for 10 days. Eleven of her HIV/AIDS patients demonstrated for her release.

By: Shah Paung

27 September 2007

Source: via PeaceWomen