They Didn’t Release Us out of Pure Heart: Interview with Freed Chin Activist
17 January 2012: Anthony Kap Khan Khual, leader of the youth wing of Zomi National Congress, was released during last week’s presidential pardon after spending four of his eight-year sentence in Pathein Prison. He was charged and convicted under the Electronic Act. He spoke to Chinland Guardian’s Salai Nyein Chan in this exclusive interview.
Chinland Guardian: You have spent four years in jail in Burma. What was it like? Have you ever been mistreated or tortured after your arrest?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: I spent four years and two months in jail. Pu Kam Lam Khup spent the same amount of time. I was in Pathein Prison. Pu Kam Lam Khup was in Myaungmya Prison. We were initially beaten up at Aung Tha Pyay when we were first arrested during the September Revolution , but it wasn’t too bad. When we are talking about prisons, there are two types of cells: general quarters and solitary cells. In December 2007 (I don’t remember the date) I was put in a confined closed room for two days. Otherwise, we were put in solitary rooms. Some of us political prisoners who are in solitary cells enjoyed slightly bigger privilege. They didn’t give us anything to read other than some news journals. And we weren’t allowed to use Tedim Chin language during family visits. They only allowed Burmese and I consider this a discrimination against us [Chin].
Chinland Guardian: How did you get arrested and what happened afterwards?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: I was arrested along with many other people in a scoop during the September 2007 uprising by the Military Affairs Security. We were first sent to Aung Tha Pyay military base where we spent about 24 hours. We were then transferred to Insein Prison, where we were harshly interrogated by the Special Bureau of Intelligence (SBI) and Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The conviction was passed down after I’d spent four months in Insein Prison. Then I got sent to Pathein Prison.
Chinland Guardian: How was the prison condition? Did you receive adequate food and water? How big was your cell? And how many people were there and how many bathrooms did you have?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: Prison is never a pleasant or good place. We did get fed adequately. There are two types of cell: 10 by 8 foot and 10 by 12 foot. There are times when two people were put together in the same room when there are more prisoners. Otherwise, it is mostly solitary.
Chinland Guardian: Did you meet other prisoners who were there for political reasons, including those from the ethnic armed groups? Were all those people released?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: An ethnic Mon Buddhist monk by the name of U Okkan La landed in our prison in early 2010, having been sentenced for 15 years under the Electronic Act. The others include some followers of U Khun Sa [a drug lord who surrendered to the Burmese junta in the mid 1990s] and other militia members (who were not arrested necessarily on political charges). Those political prisoners who were released along with me were: U Nan Da, monk abbot at Ngwe Kya Yan Monastery, ethnic Mon momk U Oh Kan La and Ma Khaing Ma Soe of the NLD [National League for Democracy].
Chinland Guardian: How do you feel about your release? Do you think that your arrest and convictions were justified?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: I believe that I can work more effectively being free than from inside [the prison]. In fact, the reason they [the authorities] released me might have to do with the fact that they want to exchange me with something they want to gain. For example, in April there were words that they [the government] were discussing about sanctions from big countries. Now that the authorities in our country have advisors, they are desperate to have the economic sanctions from the European Union and the US lifted because they can no longer bear the effects of sanctions. It wasn’t out of pure heart that they released us. What they told us was: under the Criminal Code Procedure 401/1 if you get charged in the same case, you will serve the remainder of your sentence separately. They basically want us to no longer engage in politics.
Chinland Guardian: Did you experience any medical or other particularly difficult problems when you were in prison? If so, did you get proper treatment?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: I was seriously sick with flu just before my release. I did get properly treated. My eyes are not that good so they did check my eyes and provided me eyeglasses [while in prison]. It doesn’t mean that everybody gets the same treatment. For example, it could be that I got better treatment because they know my uncle [Pu Cin Sian Thang, a 1990-elected MP and nationally prominent political figure]. Just as there were those who got better treatment, there are also people who received worse treatment.
Chinland Guardian: Were you required to sign any pledge as a condition for your release”? What did the authorities tell you when you were being released?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: It’s like what I said earlier. There was no signing involved. However, we did get threatened with the Criminal Procedure Code 401/1.
Chinland Guardian: How do you plan to move on?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: I plan to do whatever I can for the sake of my people and my country. As a leader of ZNC [Zomi National Congress] youth wing, I plan on doing what the ZNC tasks me to do, to the best of my abilities. I will help them with whatever that I can for my people. I will continue to work under their guidance.
Chinland Guardian: Do you notice any change since your imprisonment four years ago and after your release in terms of the country’s situation?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: I don’t have much to say about this since it has only been a short while since my release. But our country needs to change quickly. In my view, the change remains very slow as it is. There are certain things that the new authorities are now working on, but our country needs to change more rapidly. From what I have seen so far, the youths have so much potential: having more knowledge and experience than us in terms of politics and education. We need to work harder and in a more coordinating fashion for our country.
Chinland Guardian: Any other comments?
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: Our country will change someday. While we are waiting for that change to come and working towards that change, we must sharpen ourselves like a knife so that we can be useful tools when that change does take place. We need to make ourselves ready for our nation: for those outside of the country, they can greatly contribute as well to this when the time arrives.
Chinland Guardian: Thank you so much.
Anthony Kap Khan Khual: I wish the Chinland Guardian better success for our motherland.