A Husband Whose Wife is a Political Prisoner
Mie Mie, 39, one of Burma’s well-known political prisoners, was recently transferred to the remote Kathar Prison. Once again, her husband, Hla Moe, will struggle to find a way to visit his wife as often as possible, traveling a long distance to share 20 minutes together each visit.
“It is very difficult to visit Kathar Prison because it is so far from Rangoon. Transportation is not easy” said Hla Moe, who works in a car repair shop and raises their three children alone.
“I will continue to visit my wife to honor what she has done for our country” Hla Moe told The Irrawaddy. “She is mentally sound, but her health is not good.”
Like other political prisoners, Mie Mie (aka Thin Thin Aye) has served time in various prisons including Pathein, Insein and Tharrawaddy prisons, in what activist say is a calculated plan on the part of the military regime to make it difficult for family members and friends to stay in contact with their loved ones.
Mie Mie was arrested in October 2007 during a demonstration in Rangoon against the high price of fuel, which later led to the monk-organized mass demonstrations that spread across the country.
She received a 65-year prison sentence based on five charges including unlawful association, threatening state security and violation of laws governing communication. Mie Mie is under great strain in prison, but her suffering is shared dutifully and lessened somewhat by the support of her husband, who brings his wife books on religion and news of their two daughters and son.
“She is ill with spondylosis and arthritis,” Hla Moe said. “At first, I thought they transferred her for medical reason, but later I learned that was wrong. I still wonder why she was transferred. I asked her, but she doesn’t know.”
According to the Thailand-based Assistant Association of Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB), there are now 2,186 political prisoners in Burma including175 female prisoners.
Husbands of political prisoners have included the late Michael Aris, the British husband of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who supported his wife for many years while she was under house arrest. In 1999, during the time he suffered from cancer, the military regime refused to issue him a visa to visit his wife.
Suu Kyi sent a letter to Sen-Gen Than Shwe asking him to allow her husband to enter Burma to visit her. Her request was denied, and her husband died in Britain on his 53rd birthday.
Democracy activists say transferring political prisoners to remote areas far from their family and friends is intentional and a type of torture.
Hla Moe is allowed one prison visit each month, but it is highly restricted.
“We are not allowed to Miet freely because they record what we talked about,” he said.
Hla Moe is used to supporting his wife in prison and raising their children alone. Mie Mie was imprisoned the first time in 1988 and detained in Tharrawaddy Prison for seven years in 1996.
“My sons and daughters are knowledgeable,” said Hla Moe. “When their mother was in Tharrawaddy Prison, my daughter was 5 years old and my son was just over 2 years old. Since that time, they have become familiar with political prisoners. They’re used to political discussions.”
Mie Mie married Ko Hla Moe when she completed high school in 1990 and was a member of the National League for Democracy. They have one daughter and two sons.
“Our lives are not perfect,” said Hla Moe, who struggles to care for his children in the absence of their mother.
“I have to take care for them not only as a father but also as a mother,” he said. “It would be good for them to live with their mother. Now they don’t have a complete family.”
Mie Mie was among 22 prominent 88 Generation Student leaders including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zayar, Jimmy, Pyone Cho, Mya Aye, Htay Kywe and Ni Lar Thein who were sentenced to up to 65 years in prison.
It was reported that when her sentence was read aloud in the courtroom, Mie Mie shouted at the judge: “That’s all?”
Hla Moe said he is proud of his wife’s determination and spirit, in spite of the hardships they both are suffering.
“I will continue my sacrifice as her husband,”Hla Moe said. “I will continue to help her. I know other people also have their own difficulties. We have to face them.
It’s what the families of political prisoners have to endure.”