BANGKOK—A Burmese social activist closely involved with helping victims of Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country in May, has called on the ruling military junta to release his pregnant wife.
Tun Tun, who is also known as Myo Min Oo, said from an undisclosed hiding place that the authorities had come looking for him in early September, at the same time that they detained a number of other activists, whose work with Nargis victims showed up gaping holes in the government's handling of the disaster.
“My wife and the others in her group have been sentenced to 26 years in prison,” Mandalay-based Tun Tun, 24, said.
“I know for certain that they have sentenced my wife to 26 years in prison. I am very upset to hear this. This case has to do with something that we don’t know anything about,” he said.
Junta officials came looking for him, Tun Tun said, but they couldn’t find him so they detained his 23-year-old wife, Kathi Aung, instead.
Until September, Tun Tun had been working closely with two Buddhist monks who were helping Nargis victims in Bogalay, Dedaye, Pyapone, and other disaster-stricken towns in the south of the country, collecting donations and distributing aid to the victims.
Following the "Saffron Revolution", a monk-led series of protests sparked by rising fuel prices which ended in an armed crackdown in October 2007, Tun Tun teamed up with two monks helping cyclone victims left without government aid, first in Mandalay, then on several trips to the Irrawaddy delta.
Both monks have since been arrested on suspicion of re-grouping for further mass demonstrations on the first anniversary of the crackdown on the Saffron Revolution.
Tun Tun said some of the activists had connections with overseas Burmese political groups, but that his wife did not.
“My wife doesn’t know anything about politics. She’s not involved with any political organization. When they arrested her she was three months pregnant and was not feeling well at all,” Tun Tun added.
Victims left helpless
Kathi Aung was arrested in the central Burmese city of Mandalay on Sept. 14, at midday, he said. Tun Tun was visiting his parents in Rangoon.
“The first I have heard of her is that she was sentenced to 26 years in prison. I don’t even know what the charges were. They never contacted us here at home either.”
“She’s done nothing wrong and now we have lost everything…I want to ask international organizations not to ignore the so-called political charges against my wife and to try to pressure the authorities on this matter.”
According to official figures, Cyclone Nargis killed 84,537 people and left 53,836 missing and 19,359 injured.
Local people left homeless and without food or water in the wake of the storm complained that the government prevented aid from reaching those who needed it, and hindered attempts by religious groups and private individuals to plug the gap.
Original reporting in Burmese by Kyaw Minn Htun. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.