YANGON – Many students have made sacrifices to create a more democratic Myanmar over the past several decades. Thet Win Aung was among them. He died from malaria on a rainy day in October 2006 in Mandalay Prison.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of his death. His friends and colleagues commemorated the occasion by offering food to Buddhist monks at Kawvidarama Monastery in Tamwe Township, Yangon, on October 16. They have not forgotten him, and neither should Myanmar history.
His spirited soul is still alive and well among his political colleagues, even after 10 years. Former members of the Basic Education Student Union (BESU), of which Thet Win Aung was an active member, participate in the ‘Ko Thet Win Aung Day’ every year, where they offer food to monks. They also founded the Thet Win Aung library in Yangon in his honour back in 2012.
Librarian Maung Maung Soe said: “In 2012, we decided to build a library in his honour and raised the funds by ourselves. We hold the commemoration for him every year. It is also a chance to meet up with old friends on the anniversary of his death. He was pivotal in us coming together. He created a bonding attachment between us”.
The library provides training for children during their summer holidays and has connected with libraries nationwide to push for a national library law.
“We do more work for the society because of him. He is always in my mind,” said Maung Maung Soe.
Former BESU members have organised an annual recognition award for community-based organisations run by youths every year as part of the ‘Ko Thet Win Aung Day’ event. The Mitta Yong Chi Charity for Education was the award winner this year. The charity provides free study guides to the poor middle and high school students.
Fallen student leader Thet Win Aung (1971-2006/ died in Mandalay Prison)
Born on August 27, 1971, to parents of Win Maung and Mya Mya Aye, Thet Win Aung was a student activist. He became a member of BESU in 1988 after Rangoon Institute of Technology student Hpone Maw was controversially shot dead.
Since then, he led underground student activities as the vice-general secretary of the BESU during the era of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in 1990s. Thet Win Aung was once detained in 1991 by the SLORC. He then continued social and political activities, though he was not able to complete his matriculation exam.
As time went by, he coordinated several student uprisings, including the 1996 student protests, and crossed the Myanmar-Thai border with a group of student activists in 1997. A year later, he returned to Myanmar to organise a rally to pressure the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to honour the results of the 1990 election. His demise began then, as the military intelligence captured him in September 1998 for protesting in favour of parliament. The SPDC charged and sentenced him to a 43-year jail term in January 1999.
The military junta used to send political prisoners to prisons located in remote regions, though he was detained first at Insein Prison. He was then moved to Kalaymyo Prison, where the junta extended his sentence to another 14 years to give him a total of 57 years.
In 1999, Thet Win Aung was sent to Kalaymyo Prison in Sagaing Region, where malaria was rampant. Malaria left him paralysed and frail after he was transferred to Khamte Prison, Sagaing Region, in 2002. His parents were horrified when they saw him there. Inhumane treatment, poor prison conditions and basic human rights violations took a toll on his physical condition.
The authorities moved him to Mandalay Prison in 2006, by which time he was dying of malaria, myocardial infarction and other complicated diseases. He was confined to a wheelchair. He died on October 16, 2006, at his the of 35.
He never lived to see Myanmar’s democratic revolution, but his friends never forgot his efforts.
Aung Thawzin Oway, who lives in the US, posted on the Facebook page dedicated to Thet Win Aung: “I was as close to him as a brother. Though it was a very short time that we worked together, he will be always in my memory. I collect poems and essays about him, even now.”
His admirers created a Facebook group named ‘We never forget Ko Thet Win Aung’, where they post their memories about Thet Win Aung and his activities.
While in prison, Thet Win Aung was elected as Honorary Vice-President of the Reading University Students’ Union, and his case was widely publicised by Amnesty International.
Sadly, justice is still missing for such fallen hero in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has done little to recognize the role of political prisoners in the democracy and national reconciliation movements.
The recent commemoration of Thet Win Aung was attended by about 50 people. They were former BESU members, current members of university student unions and well-known political icons such as Min Zin, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Lower House parliamentarian Pyone Cho, who is the elder brother of Thet Win Aung.
No state officials turned up.