Friday, April 24, 2009

Min Ko Naing - 2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Awardee

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Congratulations to Min Ko Naing, the NLDA and the rest of the Burmese Freedom Fighters! Min Ko Naing is the recipient of the prestigious 2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights!

This is the link to Korean website of The May 18 Memorial Foundation's announcement of Min Ko Naing for his achievement:


Text of the announcement of the of The May 18 Memorial Foundation, sent via email.

2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Award Announcement

The situation regarding democracy and human rights in Myanmar/Burma remains dire. At this very moment, many pro-democracy activists are locked up in freezing cold cells. The international community has put pressure on Burma’s military junta, taking consistent interest in the nation’s pro-democracy movement. Despite its efforts, some countries around the world have turned a deaf ear to the issue due to conflicts of interest. After the military junta crushed the “Saffron Revolution” with brutal force, the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma, meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, a democratic leader of the country, in 2008. However, such efforts to demonstrate the international community’s commitment to the region have been to no avail, and have only led to further disappointment with Burma.

Born in the Burmese capital of Yangon in 1962, Min Ko Naing organized the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), a nationwide student union, in 1988. Later, he was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for triggering the “8888 Uprising”. After being imprisoned for 15 years, he was released from prison and continued his pro-democracy resistance. Finally he was re-arrested and sentenced to 65 years imprisonment for organizing a demonstration which gave rise to the Saffron Uprising. He is currently serving this sentence.

According to an international human rights watchdog, the number of prisoners of conscience who, like Min Ko Naing, have been arrested and imprisoned for engaging in protests and anti-government activities, amounts to about 2,000. In the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster which hit Burma in May, 2007, the international community tried to reach out to the afflicted country. Burma’s military junta, however, decided to reject this helping hand. To make matters worse, the authoritarian regime arrested and detained protesters, killing at least several hundred people, including foreign journalists, involved in the nationwide demonstration driven by saffron-robed Buddhist monks.

The 2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Committee has therefore chosen Min Ko Naing to be this year’s prizewinner. Min Ko Naing and his colleagues have devoted themselves to Burma’s democratization, and it is their devotion that we hope to remember and share as we commemorate the May 18 Gwangju Uprising. The committee sincerely desires that Min Ko Naing and other political prisoners be released as soon as possible, and hopes that democracy will truly take root in this country.

2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Committee

Moon Young-hee, Vice President of Korea Democracy Foundation

Committee Members:
Kim Chil-jun, Secretary-General of National Human Rights Commission
Yoon Gwang-jang, Chairman of the May 18 Memorial Foundation
Lee Jung-hyun, Korea National Assembly
Cha Sung-hwan, Director of Pusan Democratic Memorial Association


Below is the profile of Min Ko Naing:

Min Ko Naing (born 18 October 1962), whose name literally means "conqueror of kings" was born Paw Oo Tun in Rangoon (Yangon), Burma. He is the President of Universities Student Union, Burma, however never approved official. He is one of the most well-known political dissidents in Burma


He was born in Yangon. He is third son of U Thet Nyunt and Daw Hla Kyi. His parent are mon-chinese race from Mudon in Mon State. He has three brothers and sister. They are Daw Kyi Kyi Nyunt, Daw Ye Ye Nyunt, Daw Thadar Nyunt. He attended No.4 Basic Education Middle School, Thingyangyun Township, Yangon. At August 28 1988 he was the chairman of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). He live in No(151/Ka), Waizayantar Road, (16/2) Ward, Thingangyun Township, Yangon.

Early life/student years

Min Ko Naing's interest in politics began at the Rangoon Arts and Science University in the mid-1980s where he studied Zoology. During his student years, he was an active member of the arts club, where he enjoyed reading, writing poems and drawing cartoons, especially satirical ones. According to people who knew him, Min Ko Naing was a member of a performance troupe which took part in the traditional Than Gyat competition during the annual Water Festival Thingyan in April, called "Goat-Mouth and Spirit-Eye" and performed satirical plays and sketches satirizing Myanmar's government and the lack of freedom and democracy.

Student unions at that time, as now, were illegal in Burma; however he and other students formed secret study groups in anticipation of protests against the worsening economic conditions in Myanmar. As the first signs of serious public unrest in Burma began to appear in 1985, the year Ne Win's Burma Socialist Programme Party demonetized the 100-kyat note, Min Ko Naing and his close colleagues secretly established an underground student union in anticipation of a political uprising.

Involvement with All Burma Federation of Student Unions

Min Ko Naing formed and organized the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), a nationwide student union to oppose decades of illegitimate military rule. The student union has largely contributed to the 8888 Uprising, during which millions of people marched on the streets, protesting against the dictatorship ruling the country and calling for democracy. Unfortunately, the military regime, now known as the State Peace and Development Council, responded to the uprising with brutal force, gunning down up to 10,000 persons.

15 years political imprisonment until 2004

Min Ko Naing has been forced to go "underground", continuing his organizing work while being forced to hide and to move from house to house every night, in order to avoid arrest. After several months,however, he has been captured along with other students and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, under Section 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, vaguely-worded legislation which is frequently used to imprison political prisoners, for instigating, according to the military regime, "disturbances to the detriment of law and order, peace and tranquility". His sentence was commuted to 10 years under a general amnesty in January 1993.He has been considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, which intensively campaigned for his release.

According to Amnesty International, Min Ko Naing has been severely tortured and ill-treated during the early stages of his detention and his health suffered as a consequence. During his interrogation he was reportedly forced to stand in water for two weeks until he collapsed, and as a result, his left foot became totally numb. In 19 November 2004, he was released from prison, after being imprisoned for 15 years.

Second political imprisonment

However, after almost two years of his release in 2004, Min Ko Naing, along with other four leading student leaders, was rearrested in late September of 2006. The other four arrested student leaders were Ko Ko Gyi, who was freed from prison in 2005, Htay Kywe, Min Zeya and Pyone Cho. Despite the military regime's insistence that it was just taking these student leaders into detention for questioning, the authorities later confirmed the arrest of Min Ko Naing, as well as the other student leaders, stating that the five student leaders were held as a precaution against what the regime called internal commotion, instability and terrorism. After heavy criticism about the arrests and demands for his immediate release, the authorities released Min Ko Naing on January 11, 2007.


From 10 October 2006 to 18 October 2006 (his 44th Birthday), a nationwide campaign, “White Expression” was held to pressure the military government to release him and all of political prisoners. The rest 88 generation students (who were not arrested by junta at that time) organized the campaign. Participants wore white clothing in a show of support for the release of all political prisoners. The 88 generation students also organized the signature campaign to pressure the junta to release him and all political prisoners. It was started a week after Min Ko Naing and four colleagues were arrested. Many well-known artistes from Myanmar (such as Ludu Daw Amar and Zarganar) signed in the petition.

His 88 Generation Students group organized a campaign called “Open Heart Campaign”. It was launched on January 4, 2007, Independence Day of Myanmar. He said to the Irrawaddy Magazine that the campaign was to encourage the people to exercise freedom of expression. People could write to State Peace and Development Council leader senior general Than Shwe about their feelings under the military government.

He and his 88 Generation Students group conducted “White Sunday” campaign from 11 March 2007 to 20 May 2007 to express support to family members of political prisoners. They visited the families of political prisoners in Yangon (Rangoon) every Sunday during this period

Political imprisonment in 2007

He was arrested again around midnight on 21 August 2007, with other 13 leaders of the 88 Generation Students for organizing peaceful demonstrations. United States Government condemned the Burmese junta's arrest of them.

International Awards Min Ko Naing has won international awards for his efforts, such as the Civil Courage Prize 2005, the Homo Homini Award by People in Need Foundation, the Student Peace Prize in 2001 and the John Humphrey Freedom Award in 1999.


Related read:

Min Ko Naing, “Conqueror Of Kings”
Burma’s Student Leader
Megan Clymer1

During the democracy uprising in 1988, Paw Oo Htun, whose
nom de guerre, Min Ko Naing, means Conqueror of Kings,
emerged as one of the movement’s most prominent student
leaders. Together with other student leaders, he revived the
umbrella students’ organization, the All Burma Federation of
Student Unions. Today, while serving out a twenty year prison
sentence, Min Ko Naing remains a symbol of the Burmese
student movement.

Burma’s university students have long been at the heart of political
movements in Burma. Since 1920, when they boycotted the Rangoon
University Act, students have played a role in all major political
events in Burma. In particular, Burmese student unions were
instrumental in training student leaders. Aung San, Burma’s most
famous leader and independence hero, began his career as a student
leader; his expulsion from Rangoon University, along with fellow
student, Ko Nu, provided the catalyst for the 1936 student strikes.
Likewise, many of Burma’s other well-known leaders—U Nu, Aung
San’s successor, U Thant, former secretary-general of the United
Nations, and Ne Win, Burma’s dictator for twenty six years—were
once student leaders.

On the following day, August 28, 1988, the ABFSU hosted the
congress on the RASU campus. Thousands of people attended. As
Chairman, Min Ko Naing gave the opening address, which according
to Thu Rein, “everyone liked;” he received “the loudest applause
from the audience.” Min Ko Naing described a metaphorical wall
built by the BSPP in the 1962 coup. “In the beginning the wall was
too thick—we could not destroy it,” he said. “But, from 1962 to
1988 our older brothers and sisters have been trying to destroy this
wall. More and more cracks have appeared in the wall since that day
in 1962. Now the wall is weak enough. If we unite, and push down
the wall, it will totally crumble and fall down.”

Min Ko Naing closed with his poem entitled “Faith.” “He
spoke excitedly,” remembers Thu Rein. As he read each line of the
poem, the crowed repeated after him:
(Megan Clymer, 48 The Journal of Burma Studies, Volume 8
Min Ko Naing, “Conqueror Of Kings”
Journal of Burma Studies, Volume 8 49)

In memory of our comrades,
Who have sacrificed their lives for our national cause,
I make this pledge of faith.
In this unfinished revolution,
Should my blood be not red enough,
Splash your blood over me
As a potion to make me brave.
In this unfinished revolution,
Should my soul be gripped with fear,
Be hesitant and lack courage,
Let your souls enter into mine
And steer me along.
In this unfinished revolution,
Should I
Become traitor to our proud people
And act inconsiderately and recklessly
With your firm
Peacock hands
Crush and punish me.
In this unfinished revolution,
Should I have to sacrifice my life half-way
It is no sorrow to leave this world.
As a duty fulfilled, I will believe
My soul enhanced with joy,
And holding up our peacock flag flapping in the wind
I will come to where you are.
Welcome me with open arms.

Source: 1 Megan Clymer is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins Institute for
Policy Studies in Baltimore, MD where she studies international affairs and
civil society. She lived with the Burmese community on the Thai-Burma
border for two months in 2000. The author would like to acknowledge the
contribution of the following: Bo Kyi, Moe Thee Zun, Thu Rein, Min Zin,
Aung Din, Hlwan Moe, Aung Saw Oo, Kyaw Thura, Brian Joseph, Burton
Levin, Kenton and Marlee Clymer, Wayne Clymer, Ruth Arrowsmith,
Hans-Dieter Evers, Myint Zan, Rajshekhar, and Scott Haddock.


Min Ko Naing: A Voice of Defiance and a Voice of Hope
by Rohingya Human Rights
2008-10-06 09:25:18

Staring at the eye of the presiding judge in the courtroom at Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison on September 09, 2008, a towering figure of Burma's pro-democracy movement, Min Ko Naing addressed in a thunder voice,“You can sentence us to a thousand years in prison for our political activities, but we will continue to defend ourselves in accordance with the law. Nobody can hide from justice.” Min Ko Naing made this defiant statement when he and 34 other detained former student leaders of the 88 Generation Students' group appeared in the Rangoon East District Court, located in Insein Prison.

Their lawyer, Nyi Nyi Hlaing said that they were facing a variety of charges related to their involvement in last year’s protests. In fact, this protest of the former leaders of the 88 Generation Students' group in last year’s August has ultimately turned into the largest anti-regime demonstrations in twenty years since 1988 and became known as the Saffron Revolution drawing tens of thousands of monks and the common people to the streets of Rangoon and all other major cities of the country demanding the end of the despotic military rule which has turned the country into a pauper state and forced millions of the people to live a miserable life with half-naked body full of hunger and grief.

Min Ko Naing and his colleagues were charged of violations of Electronics Act 33A, the Illegal Organizations Act 17/1 and Section 4 of SPDC Law No 5/96, which prohibits actions that “endanger the national convention”.. Mentionably, it is the guidelines of the stage-managed farcical National Convention where only the military hand-picked delegates have attended and which has paved the way for the 54-member Constitution Drafting Commission to draft a pro-military constitution on which the military regime staged a referendum drama in the country on last May 2008 and is going to be followed by the general elections in 2010. This sham constitution contains all the provisions to glorify the militarism in the governance where the head of the army will be the most powerful person in the country, with the ability to appoint key cabinet figures and suspend the constitution in the event of an emergency that he defines. It also stipulates that no amendments to the charter can be made without the consent of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, making changes impossible without the support of the military representatives in Parliament who occupy 110 seats out of the 440-seat lower house which is called Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), and 56 seats out of the 224-seat upper house which is called Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities). Moreover, in the event of a "state of emergency" which the tatmadaw (armed forces) is given the authority to declare at any time, the commander in chief would assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

They were also charged with violating Article 130B of the Penal Code, which prohibits libel against friendly foreign powers, which stemmed from their alleged criticism of China and Russia for their role in vetoing a draft UN Security Council resolution on Burma in January 2007. They were also accused of speaking with the exiled media and the recorded interviews and other items uploaded to Web sites operated by Burmese exiles were produced as evidence.

On August 27, 2008, the authority was formally requested to permit Min Ko Naing and his colleagues to appear in the court without handcuffs, but they were brought to the courtroom in handcuffs. Many of these veterans of Burma’s pro-democracy movement have spent more than a decade in prison for their political activities. Besides Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, other prominent members of the 88 Generation Students’ Group who are now in detention, include Htay Win Aung, Min Zeya, Mya Aye and Kyaw Min Yu - also known as Ko Jimmy.

The original name of Min Ko Naing is Paw U Tun . He was born on 18 October 1962 in Rangoon. He is the third son of U Thet Nyunt and Daw Hla Kyi. His parent are mon-chinese race from Mudon in Mon State . He has three sisters. They are Daw Kyi Kyi Nyunt, Daw Ye Ye Nyunt, Daw Thadar Nyunt. His family lives in No(151/Ka), Waizayantar Road , (16/2) Ward, Thingangyun Township , Rangon.

Min Ko Naing literally means "conqueror of kings" which was adopted as a pseudonym by Paw U Tun and by at least 18 other students in 1988 to sign posters and leaflets criticizing the military rule. While a student at the University of Rangoon in the 1980s, Min Ko Naing secretly organized a nationwide student union to oppose decades of military rule. In March 1988, demonstrations began in Rangoon, the then capital of Burma to protest the government mismanagement of the country’s economy which turned the resource-rich Burma into the world’s poorest country and was accorded Least Developed Nation status by the UN that year in the wake of the demonetization of much of the Burmese currency in 1987 by the military government of General Ne Win. This has eventually led to an unprecedented civil unrest. And Min Ko Naing soon emerged as a leader, encouraging people to use peaceful means to express their frustration. At the height of the mass civil disobedience campaign against 26 years of one-party military rule in Burma, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) was formed on 28 August 1988 and Min Ko Naing was made the chairman of the ABFSU. At the founding rally of the ABFSU, Min Ko Naing called on students throughout the country to struggle peacefully against military rule and for democracy and freedom of association.

After violently suppressing the pro-democracy demonstrations and gunning down about 10,000 people in August 1988, the military seized power again in September 1988 and formed a new government, called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Martial law decrees were issued, including a ban on any criticism of the military and of any public gathering of more than five people. They arrested hundreds of students for their political opposition activities. Although thousands of young activists fled to neighboring countries, others continued their struggle inside the country. In March 1989, the SLORC began to issue warnings against possible memorial gatherings by students and others to mark the first anniversaries of the deaths of student demonstrators during the initial waves of civil unrest in March 1988.

On 24 March 1989, Min Ko Naing was arrested and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment under Section 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, vaguely-worded legislation which is frequently used to imprison political prisoners. Later, his 20 years’ imprisonment was commuted to 10 years under a general amnesty.

During the early stages of his detention, Min Ko Naing was severely tortured and ill-treated and his health suffered as a consequence. During his interrogation he was reportedly forced to stand in water for two weeks until he collapsed, and as a result, his left foot became totally numb.

For most of his imprisonment Min Ko Naing has been held in complete solitary confinement. In November 1994 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma was also allowed to visit him briefly in prison, and described him as being nervous and thin. Subsequent reports on his health stated that, although it improved, he suffers from a nervous tremor and may have suffered emotionally as a result of his ill-treatment and prolonged solitary confinement. He is believed to suffer from a gastric ulcer. On April 22,2008, a statement of the US State Department said, military-ruled Burma's imprisoned pro-democracy activist Min Ko Naing may go blind after failing to receive medical treatment.

Mentionably, political prisoners in Burma routinely face torture during the initial phases of detention when they are often interrogated for hours or even days at a time by rotating teams of Military Intelligence (MI) personnel. During the interrogation, the members of the security forces continue to use torture as a means of extracting information; to punish political prisoners and members of ethnic minorities; and as a means of instilling fear in anyone critical of the military government. Even after sentencing, the political prisoners are vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment, when they can be punished for breaking arbitrary prison rules such as possessing writing paper. In addition, conditions in most prisons are harsh, due to the lack of adequate food, water, sanitation and medical care.

After 15 years in prison, Min Ko Naing was released on 19 November 2004, but was rearrested in late September 2006 after almost two years of his release along with other leading student leaders like Ko Ko Gyi, who was freed from prison in 2005, Htay Kywe, Min Zeya and Pyone Cho. On January 11, 2007, he was released again. And for the last time, he was arrested again at midnight on 21 August 2007, with other 13 leaders of the 88 Generation Students for organizing the Saffron Revolution.

Min Ko Naing is one of the few top opposition leaders after democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The military regime repeatedly tried to break his spirit. In 1994, the then-U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson visited Min Ko Naing in prison and informed him the regime would permit him to be deported to the United States in exchange for his release, but he refused. For his extraordinary efforts and courage, he won many international awards such as the Civil Courage Prize 2005, the Homo Homini Award by People in Need Foundation, the Student Peace Prize in 2001 and the John Humphrey Freedom Award in Canada on 10 December 1999 and on this occasion, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made comments about him in a videotaped message which was smuggled out of Burma, “[Min Ko Naing] is one of the student leaders who started the 1988 movement for democracy, and he has stood firm against all pressure from the authorities...[he] represents many others who are suffering from the injustices of the present military regime. That the prize has been awarded to him gives us all great hope, great pride, and great pleasure, because it shows that the world has not forgotten our cause....''.

Min Ko Naing is a leader with a very clear vision on the future of Burmese people and the country. The military regime has physically detained him in prison, but could not imprison thousands of Min Ko Naing of the young generation who are continuing their fight against the military regime idiolizing him with the hope to snatch away the sun of liberty, democracy and peace in Burma and therefore, Min Ko Naing himself has rightly said, “......... I'll never die.. Physically I might be dead, but many more Min Ko Naing would appear to take my place..."#


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