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Remembering An Activist

Most people have never heard of Thet Nwe. He was one of the 300 political prisoners released earlier this month by the regime in Burma. We hope former General Thein Sein is sincere when he says his government is committed to moving the country towards a healthy democracy. Only time will tell. But Thet Nwe died last week 10 days after being released from prison and he will never know if what Thein Sein promises is true or not. He gave his life fighting for his country’s future.

When Thet Nwe was released, he was wheeled out in a trishaw because he was unable to walk. He was also missing his teeth since they had been beaten out of him during one of his many torture sessions. According to his sister and fellow activist Marlar Nwe, “interrogators held her brother’s head in a toilet filled with faeces and repeatedly hit him over the head. His hands and feet were shackled and only one hand freed from time to time to allow him to eat.” The trauma was so severe that twice during his imprisonment he was admitted to Rangoon Psychiatric Hospital. His crime? He was an organizer for the National League of Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party.

But now Burma has, almost overnight, put on a new face. As a result, companies are looking for new investment opportunities in that country. Tourism is starting to ramp up. Countries like Norway have begun lifting sanctions. Some say, in the best interest of Burma, we should forgive the past.

Try to explain that to Thet Nwe’s family. I couldn’t. Those who imprison, torture, and abuse don’t deserve forgiveness. They are criminals who need to be held accountable for their crimes. If Thet Nwe were my brother, I don’t know if I ever could forgive those who committed such unspeakable acts, not just to him but to thousands of other Burmese citizens.

But Thet Nwe’s story is not likely to make the front page of any major newspaper, even though the changes you see happening in Burma are, at least in part, because of his sacrifice. That is something worth remembering.