Remarking that Myanmar needs to acknowledge “what happened to our society”, the writer Ma Thida has called for an official apology to be made to former political prisoners.
The author, who spent nearly six years behind bars in the 1990s for her activism, made the comments on Tuesday night in front of a packed audience inside the Goethe Villa, where she read from a new edition of her powerful memoir, “Prisoner of Conscience.”
The excerpts dealt with her time as an activist with the NLD – she was an aide to Aung San Suu Kyi – her experience as a prisoner – and her deep, life-saving engagement with Buddhist meditation.
In between excerpts, she took questions, many of which focused on issues of transitional justice.
One person asked if she was angry. Another wondered if she thought her jailors felt guilty. Yet another asked if there was any kind of truth and reconciliation process underway.
Ma Thida, who is a doctor by training, was one of thousands jailed by the military between the 1988 student uprising and the transition to civilian rule in 2011, when amnesties began emptying out the prisons.
Once out, many former political prisoners spoke of suffering appalling conditions, including torture, lack of healthcare, psychological trauma, and even the break-up of their families.
In response to some of the questions, she said that you can’t just put “a layer” over these wounds and that an official apology was an important part of the healing process. Through the book she hopes to raise awareness about this issue.
Her recommendations echo others made by advocacy groups for political prisoners.
But an apology or other forms of recognition are not in the offing, at least not publically.
Suu Kyi’s government, which took power in April after winning elections in November, has seemed hesitant to confront the dark legacy of military rule despite the fact that many elected to office are former political prisoners themselves, including Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest.
The military still controls a quarter of parliament by constitutional writ and remains a powerful force in the country. She needs their cooperation to advance many of her priorities, including negotiating the peace process and jumpstarting the economy.
Suu Kyi’s government, however, has hinted at supporting and funding the creation of an official museum for the activists who took part in the August 8, 1988 uprising.
So far, a temporary version exists in Thingangyun township.