It was on the full moon night of – Thidingyut – a night where Buddhists light candles and pray at temples or in their homes. I was wandering around a temple it’s lights shining bright. I was in Mae Sot, a Thai border town with the River Moei separating it from Myawaddy, a border town on the Burma side.
I was stopped by a familiar voice calling my name from behind and as I answered, I knew it was Maung Yangon, a teenage boy I’ve known since he was a child.
Today (Oct 12) is the second amnesty, granted by President U Thein Sein, to prisoners in Burma’s crowded jails.
There were 6,359 prisoners released and I knew Yangon would start his conversation on the subject of the released prisoners. I could see from his eyes that he is hoping his mother is among the released.
As expected, Yangon said to me.
“I’ve not heard any news of my mom.”
Yangon’s mom, Ma Thandar, worked as an organizing officer in Eain Mae Township for the National League for Democracy until she was arrested in April 2007 and sentenced to 29-year in jail.
Yangon’s father, Ko Par Gyi is an exile political activist based on the Thai-Burma border and his three children, Yagon, an older sister and a younger brother are living with him.
Yangon said that he and his brother were still young when their mother was taken away.
“I was only 13 and my brother was only 7 when my mom was arrested. I heard it from a conversation some guys and my grandfather were having downstairs in our home – I was sad and frightened.”
Yangon recalled his childhood experience of sorrow, scared and worried without having the daily care and love of his mother. He said that since the day his mother was arrested, he and his siblings had to live from going to their different relatives.
Yangon said his mother was arrested on her way back from a trip to the Thai border.
“She told me that she would only go to Eain Mae Town. I even insisted to go with her, but she refused me. Mom was arrested at a checkpoint on the Myawaddy road on her way back home.”
Yangon’s mother was charged with Article 17/1, 13/1 and 124 – illegally crossing the border, contacting illegal organizations and of degrading the country. She was initially sentenced to 28-years imprisonment with a 1,000 kyat fine. Yangon’s mother and her lawyer refused to pay the fine, as they said ‘fines are only paid by those who are in the wrong’. The judge added another year to Yangon’s mother sentence and she is now serving 29 years in the infamous Insein Prison in Rangoon.
Yangon said that he has had to cope with loneliness while pursuing his education.
“My father is also a politician, so if he goes back to Burma, he will be arrested. The authorities also wanted to arrest my father before they arrested my mother.
When I arrived to the border, I was sent to Nu Po refugee camp to study. My sister had to stay at a boarding house and my younger brother stayed with our father. I had to stay alone at a house in the camp and go to school. My father was busy at his work.”
Yangon is now 18 and he is in seven grades. He hasn’t seen his mother for some years and when asked how he feels, he whispered.
“I miss my mom, particularly at night.”
Yangon said that he missed those days when he took his school lunch box prepared by his mother. Now, in their old house in Rangoon house, his paralyzed grandfather lives alone dependent on care from neighbors.
Yangon said that it is hard for his grandfather to visit his mom, the only child, with his poor health and the difficulty of getting a prison visit permit makes it even harder.
Yangon worried when he heard bad news about his mother in jail.
“I’ve heard that my mom is not healthy. She suffers from kidney disease and cholesterol that causes her high blood pressure.”
Yangon said that he has done many memorable things with his mother recalls an incident.
“Once, I took leaflets that my mom was distributing, and I distributed them. I felt like I was working together with my mom. After my mom found out, she scolded me and said that I was too young to do that work.”
Yangon said that he shares his mother’s blood and says like her he can’t accept anything that is not fair or just.
When asked how he knows that, he gave an example.
“Let’s say I was asked to cut my hair, If there are other people with long hair like me are not asked to cut their hair, I won’t listen to that and would say if the others cut, I will cut. I see that rules and laws are applied to everyone. It is not just for me.”
Aung Myo Min, director of Human Right Education Institute of Burma said about dignity during his speech at education training.
“Although a child has got enough food to eat, if he or she doesn’t receive care and love of their mother, it is same as they have no dignity.”
Yangon lowered down his head and said that he is hoping that the next time prisoners are released it would include his mother. He said that he has been wishing for a full family.
“I am hoping for where our family is all together, with five members, we would live in the same house and my mom is free.”