Torture Suspected in Death of Myanmar Poet Called a Voice of Resistance

Myanmar poet Khet Thi, who wrote that the revolution against Myanmar's military junta 'is in the heart,' dies under torture at the hands of his interrogators.
2021-05-11
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Torture Suspected in Death of Myanmar Poet Called a Voice of Resistance Myanmar poet and anti-junta activist Khet Thi is shown in an undated photo.
Photo sent by citizen journalist

A Myanmar poet known for writing verse supporting the resistance movement against the ruling military junta died less than 24 hours after his arrest, and his body was returned with organs including his heart removed, his wife and supporters said Tuesday.

Khet Thi, also known as Zaw Tun, was taken into custody on Saturday for questioning at a detention center in Sagaing, a region in northwestern Myanmar that has been the scene of heavy protests against military rule.

When Khet Thi’s body was retrieved by family members Sunday at a hospital in the Sagaing capital Monywa, it was badly discolored and stitching indicated that at least some internal organs had been removed, said his family.

His family was told by the army that the 45-year-old poet had died of a heart attack, they said.

Speaking on Monday in a panel discussion held by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Richard Horsey—a Myanmar adviser for the International Crisis Group—noted that Khet Thi had penned a line, now widely quoted, saying “They shoot us in the head, but they don’t know that the revolution is in the heart.”

When Khet Thi’s body was returned, his heart was gone, and authorities said that he had died of a heart attack, Horsey said.

“I think the message was pretty clear. He wrote that line, and he lost his heart.”

His death makes three poets from Sagaing to be killed for working to oppose the junta, sources say. The first was Chan Win, a poet from Monywa whose real name was Chan Thar Swe. The second was Kyi Lin Aye. Both were shot dead on March 3 in Monywa.

Khet Thi’s wife Chaw Su, a worker for the Telecommunications Department who was active in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of work stoppages in opposition to military rule, had also been interrogated, but was released on Saturday and allowed to return home, sources said.

Khet Thi quote and sketch.jpgSimple, transparent poems

“When [Khet Thi] wrote poems, they were not just literary. They were about ideas,” another poet and protest veteran in Monywa told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And his ideas were motivated by politics.”

“The difference between his poems and the work of others was that his poems were not subtle. They were simple and transparent,” he said.

Another poet, Yoe Khat, called Khet Thi’s death a loss to the world of poetry, and said he would continue to be honored by those resisting military rule in Myanmar, where a democratically elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted by the military on Feb. 1.

“From time immemorial, poets have fought back with their hearts and with their minds,” Yoe Khan said, adding that Khet Thi had been doing this “since the beginning of the revolution.”

“He inspired the people to revolution by imparting knowledge. This is a great loss to the world of poetry, and we will continue to honor him,” he said.

Khet Thi’s funeral Monday evening in his hometown Pale was closely watched by plainclothes police and singing was banned, though many in the crowd could be seen raising the three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance to junta rule, family members told RFA.

“He was a good man. He was loved by all his friends, and at home he would always cook for his family,” one family member said. “Now, when I wake up in the morning, I feel so empty and yet I cannot cry.”

“There is no turning back time, though. He will never be forgotten.”

Khet Thi, who had been married only two years, had made a living in Pale by making and selling cakes and ice cream. His brother is now under arrest in Monywa Prison for taking part in anti-junta protests, with family members keeping the news a secret from his mother.

Attempts by RFA to reach Myanmar’s Deputy Information Minister Major General Zaw Min Tun for comment this week were unsuccessful.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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