Birthday Behind Bars

“I would like to say this clearly and precisely today: we will not bow down our heads and take the injustice unchallenged”

– Min Ko Naing, Radio Free Asia  24 March 2006

Min Ko Naing is one of Burma’s heroes, and unfortunately he has to spend his birthday this year the same way he has spent it many years in the past – behind bars. His name means “Conquerer of Kings” which fits his fighting spirit. Min Ko Naing was one the first to spark the fire inside the country that led to the 1988 uprising. He was well known for his satire on government mismanagement. Min Ko Naing is a talented artist and poet. He was there at the very beginning of the student uprising in 1988. He was there before March 1988, when the first demonstrations were held and the first shots were fired. Before the 8.08.88 demonstrations Min Ko Naing and his colleagues set about writing political documents and leaflets. They re-organized the All Burma Student Federation Union (ABSFU), established by Aung San (Father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi). The ABSFU called for the general strike on 08.08.88 not knowing if people would heed their call. Min Ko Naing led the demonstrations before and after the crackdown. He started marching with a few hundred people which then grew to around 10,000. His kind heartedness, honesty and sincerity drew people to him. He had the ability to inspire and motivate people. For these qualities he was made chairman of the ABSFU. Min Ko Naing is committed to non-violence. During his 16 years imprisonment he wrote poems, meditated, read Buddhist literature and maintained his determination. He was released in 2004. Min Ko Naing, together with his former colleagues Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Pyone Cho, Min Zeya and Htay Kywe formed the 88 Generation Students Group. One of the first things Min Ko Naing did with the 88 Generation group was to visit families of those who were still in prison, to give support and encouragement.

On May 27, 2007, the 88 Generation leaders participated in the 17th anniversary of the NLD winning the general election. A celebration and a march were held outside the NLD headquarters. Min Ko Naing and other 88 Generation leaders began to march toward Shwedagon Pagoda, however the road was blocked by thugs of the regime and they were forced to turn back. Min Ko Naing then spoke to the crowd as his first speech in public after his release:

“A rare public display of contempt for the military ensued as Min Ko Naing shouted slogans and called on the activists to brave government retaliation.

“We have sacrificed a lot of lives. A lot of people have died on the streets. But are we the kind of people who would be scared by threats?” Min Ko Naing asked supporters, DVB recordings show. The crowd responded by yelling, “No way! No Way!”

Min Ko Naing then shouted, “Any government authorities or groups in disguise may threaten us or take action against us for doing this. Are we ready to fight them with courage?” An overwhelming “Yeah!” was the response.

(Democratic Voice of Burma 28 May 2007)

He was again at the forefront of mass Burmese activism when on August 19 2007, he led several hundred people on a march to protest against recent price increases. He was arrested the next day, but the demonstrations grew and culminated in the Saffron revolution. His family are worried that his health is deteriorating and he is not receiving any medical care.

He is a crucial leader for Burma’s future, and it is imperative that he be released immediately.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at the birthday celebration held for Min Ko Naing in Rangoon today

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