Myanmar (Burma) has released the most prominent political dissidents of the country from jail.
One of the dissidents released is Mya Aye who had been serving a 65-year jail sentence for speaking out against the Burmese government.
His 23-year-old daughter is Wai Hnin Pwint Thon. She left Myanmar in 2006, because her father’s activism made it impossible for her to continue her studies there.
She lives in London now where she’s a pro-democracy activist herself.
Marco Werman talked with her about release of her father and other Burmese dissidents.
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Marco Werman: One of the dissidents released today was Mya Aye. He had been serving a 65-year jail sentence for speaking out against the Burmese government. His 23-year-old daughter is Wai Hnin. She left Myanmar in 2006 because her father’s activism made it impossible for her to continue her studies there. She lives in London now where she’s a pro-democracy activist herself. Wai Hnin says when she first heard that her dad might be released she didn’t believe it.
Wai Hnin: I can say I’m still in shock, you know. I’m really, really happy that he is released because until, well, yesterday when I heard the news about the amnesty I didn’t really want to keep my hope high. So until last night I didn’t really think that this would happen. So I had to ask my mom for three or four times to make sure that this is true and he is released. And when I got to talk to him it’s just over the moon. I’m very excited about it, yes.
Werman: So you spoke with him, that means he’s already out of prison.
Hnin: Yes, I spoke to him this morning briefly just to see how he is. It’s been four years that we haven’t spoken to each other, so.
Werman: Wow, so tell me the scene. Was he able to describe for you what the scene was when he was released from the jail? Were the other political dissidents that walked out with him?
Hnin: Yes, there were other 88 generation group members with him, so there were lots of supporter and also lots of people waiting for them outside the prison. And particularly, my father when I talked to him, he said that “Oh, you know, I’m very happy, but still we need to remember there’s political activists that still remain in prison and we still need to do something about them.” That’s what he told me.
Werman: Right, well, one thing that’s always shadowed political dissidents in Burma is that often when they’re released they get arrested again. Is that a concern for you?
Hnin: Yes, because now people say oh, you know, things are changing and moving gradually. I agree with that, but change doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s reform because you know, the laws which put my father and his friends in prison still remain in place. So you know, if my father speaks out critically against the government then the military backed government can put him back in prison anytime.
Werman: So when you were growing up in Burma, I mean what was it like living in the home of a dissident? Was it always kind of a sense of paranoia lurking?
Hnin: This is not the first time he was arrested. I mean he was arrested in 1989 for his role as a prominent student leader in 88 uprising. So I was five years old when he was arrested, so I didn’t know whether I had a father or not. So my mother you know, had to show me the photograph and say this is your father. So I grew up learning that I had a father through photograph. The first time I saw him it was in prison when I was four years old. So even when he was released there was a paranoia that oh, you know, the regime will take my father away again because he kept continuing his activities. So there was always a fear inside me that oh, there will be a knock on the door and they will take my father away. So it’s like every morning I had to check whether my father was still there or not. That was my childhood, that’s what I remember.
Werman: Wai Hnin, when will you get to see your father? When will you get to hug him?
Hnin: I don’t know because as you know, I’m very you know, outspoken about the situation in Burma and I don’t know whether it’s safe for me to go back or not. And I know my father very well, if he wants me to continue my activities… Of course, I want to, I’m very jealous of the fact that all my family can see him and you know, have a meal with him and not me. And I wish I was there.
Werman: Wai Hnin is the daughter of Mya Aye, one of the Burmese dissidents who was released from jail today in Burma. Wai, we hope you get to see your father soon. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Hnin: Yes, thank you very much.
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