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Burma: Exiles stage defiant protest at London embassy to mark Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday

Five Burmese exiled dissidents staged a defiant protest at the country’s London embassy earlier this morning to mark the 65th birthday of Burma’s iconic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League of Democracy to victory in the last elections in Burma back in 1990 with just under 60 per cent of the vote. However, the ruling military junta ignored the result and she has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest.

The five, joined by Amnesty International UK’s director Kate Allen, scaled the steps of the embassy, which are technically Burmese sovereign territory – and in Burma political gatherings of five or more are illegal.

The protest was organised by Amnesty International UK and Burma Campaign UK.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Saturday may mark Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday. But the problems in Burma go far beyond the detention of this iconic human rights defender – and we wanted to show that with our small act of defiance.

“The five exiles each represent a different strand of Burmese society and each has been forced to flee to the UK for simply seeking to express their own opinions freely in their own country.

“Such a small act of defiance is impossible to do in Burma without severe consequences. In Burma, the harsh reality is that anyone brave enough to speak up against the regime can be monitored, harassed, discriminated against, detained, imprisoned, tortured and even killed.”

Zoya Phan, International Coordinator of Burma Campaign UK who also took part in the action, added: “Having a political meeting, an unregistered mobile phone or just writing a poem is enough to be jailed in Burma. We need more international action to free all political prisoners.”

Each person on the steps posed with a name of a Burmese political prisoner scrawled on their upturned palm.

The five exiles were Zoya Phan, Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, Htein Lin, Nay Oo Hlaing and  Aung Gyi.

On Friday, Radio 4 will be broadcasting a special programme on Aung San Suu Kyi. The following day (Aung San Suu Kyi’s actual birthday) the programme will be broadcast by BBC World Service into Burma.

Background information:
Zoya Phan is a high profile exile from Burma. She fled Burma aged 14 after her village was attacked by the Burmese Army because they were from the Karen ethnic minority. She is now International Coordinator at Burma Campaign UK. Her autobiography, Little Daughter, was published in paperback in May. Zoya Phan had the name of Nilar Thein scrawled on her hand. Nilar Thein is an 88 Generation political prisoner, who had to abandon her child because she couldn’t maintain her in her hiding place.
Wai Hnin Pwint Thon is the daughter of Ko Mya Aye, one of the organisers of the 1988 pro democracy uprising in Burma. The first time she saw her father was through the bars of a jail cell where he was imprisoned. Ko Mya Aye was arrested again in 2007 for his role in the uprising that year. He is currently serving a 65-year jail sentence and is being denied medical treatment for a serious heart condition. Wai Hnin is a Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. Wai Hnin posed with the name of her father written on her hand.

Htein Lin is an artist and a comedian. He is also a former political prisoner. He had the name of his friend Zarganar on his hand. Zarganar is the most famous comedian in Burma and is currently serving a 35-year jail sentence for criticising the country’s aid efforts following the 2008 cyclone.

Nay Oo Hlaing, is a 25-year-old exile whose father was a political prisoner in Burma. He has been in the UK for eight months. At school in Burma he was taught to act in a play by Zarganar. On his hand was the name of Khun Bedu, a Kareni youth activist. Khun Bedu is serving a 30-year jail sentence for campaigning against the country’s referendum in 2008.

Aung Gyi is a journalist for Democratic Voice of Burma who has been jailed twice by the dictatorship. He was also a leader of the 88 Generation students. He had the name of Aung Naing written on his hand. Aung Naing is serving a 65-year jail sentence.

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