'Thank you all so much, I will keep working for democracy and human rights development in Burma and in the Kayan region. I hope to meet you all personally some time; I want to send best regards to you all.'
Khun Kawrio, after his release in July 2012
Youth activist Khun Kawrio had spent nearly four years behind bars by the time he was finally released by Burmese authorities in July 2012. Arrested alongside his colleagues Khun Bedu and Khun Dee De he was imprisoned for the simple act of releasing balloons in protest at a constitution being proposed by the country’s military government.
In 2010 we began campaigning for the release of all three men. Just two years later, in January 2012, Khun Dee De and Khun Bedu were released. But we never stopped fighting for Khun Kawrio and six months later, he too found freedom.
When, in 2008, the government proposed a new constitution that had been written without properly consulting Burma’s large ethnic minority population, many groups led protests against it. And they were made to pay a heavy price.
Khun Kawrio, Khun Bedu and Khun Dee De are from the Kayan, or Karenni, ethnic group. As leading members of the activist group Kayan New Generation Youth (KNGY), they organised the release of balloons in protest at the new proposed constitution. This constitution offered scant protection for human rights and not only ensured the military would never be punished for perpetrating abuses, but was also designed to keep them in control of the government.
In the days leading up to a referendum on the new constitution the activists peacefully campaigned for a No vote. As well as releasing the balloons carrying their political messages they also handed out pamphlets, launched paper boats and painted ‘Vote No’ on walls and lamp posts.
All three were arrested on 10 May 2008 - the night of the referendum.
Torture and Trial
During his 15-day interrogation Khun Kawrio was beaten with sticks, he was kicked, a plastic bag was put over his head and he was forced to kneel on stones. To lower the sound of his screams, his mouth was taped up.
Khun Kawrio’s interrogators forced him to inhale so much water that he felt like he was drowning. This particular torture left him with severe lung problems but he was denied treatment while in prison.
After all of this Khun Kawrio was taken to a special courtroom in Loikaw prison for a trial that lasted for two hours. He did not have a lawyer and his family were not allowed to attend. He was sentenced to 37 years in prison. Khun Bedu was given the same sentence while Khun Dee De was given a slightly lesser sentenced of 35 years.
In 2010 we started work on their case, urging you to send appeals to the Burmese authorities and messages of support directly to the prisoners. As the political landscape began to change in Burma, we stepped up our calls for all political prisoners to be freed.
On 13 January 2012 Khun Bedu and Khun Dee De were released from prison, but it wasn’t until 3 July 2012 that Khun Kawrio was finally free.
His release is great news - it shows that applying pressure to the Burmese authorities can make a difference. But there are many more hundreds of political prisons behind bars in Burma, and we continue to call for their freedom.