NEW DELHI—The only leader of Burma’s 2007 Saffron Revolution to escape from a junta prison camp has described torture and backbreaking hard labor in custody.
Ashin Panna Siri spoke after arriving safely in New Delhi following his breakout from the Lin Dan prison camp in Burma’s Chin state on Sept. 15. He was a close associate of U Gambira, leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, which spearheaded last year’s uprising against the military junta that has ruled Burma since 1988.
“I was badly tortured during interrogation [by] agents from military security affairs [formerly military intelligence], and special branch police and conventional police,” Ashin Panna Siri said in an interview.
“I was forced to do squatting and stand on one foot while answering questions. When I couldn’t answer or the answer was unsatisfactory, I was punched in the head, face, and ribs. My toes were stepped on by boots,” he said.
The food is horrible. Rice mixed with stones and sometimes with rat feces."
Ashin Panna Siri
“The military security agent was worst. He kicked my face with boots and also kicked my chest. He said he wouldn’t care if he was dismissed for using violent methods. He also put his pistol on the table and threatened me.”
On Sept. 15, Ashin Panna Siri said, he scaled two barbed-wire fences to flee the camp—one of them 10 feet high and one 15 feet high. He declined to disclose any details of his flight to India.
“I climbed over both fences. My hands and arms were torn and lacerated by the barbed wire. But I didn’t care,” he said
Even monks handed only brief sentences for their roles in the 2007 uprising were sent to hard labor camps, a punishment usually reserved for those handed longer terms, he said.
“Conditions in these camps are far worse than in proper prisons. The food is horrible. Rice mixed with stones and sometimes with rat feces. There was almost no proper medical care and inmates had to do very hard labor,” he said.
“Our feet were chained. We had to work from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and then from 1 p.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. We had only Sundays off. It was very hard labor. We had to bring timber logs and carry them on our shoulders. We had to dig ditches, pound gravel, and mend roads,” Ashin Panna Siri said.
While he was initially detained from Oct. 18-24 in Police Station #1 in Monywa, he said, “High-level military officials—I believe they were the divisional commander and deputy commander—visited quite often and closely supervised my questioning to get information from me. They asked my interrogators in front of me, ‘What is the situation now? What information did we get? Get it from him by any means!’”
Ashin Panna Siri was convicted Jan. 18, 2008 of possessing foreign currency, which he acknowledges having at the time of his arrest. “The reason they didn’t charge me with political acts is that they want to deny that there are any political prisoners in Burma,” he said.
Ashin Panna Siri hid with U Gambira after the crackdown, in which dozens were killed and thousands arrested. Arrested on Oct. 18, 2007, he spent seven months in Monywa prison before he was convicted and sent to hard labor.
Original reporting and translation by Ko Ko Aung and Nay Lin for RFA’s Burmese service. Service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.