U Ba Thaw
oil on canvas
60" x 36"
In 1991, U Baw Thaw, a former naval commander, author, and journalist, died in custody after spending nearly 2 years in the Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar. Suffering from a chronic degenerative disease since the time of his arrest, U Baw Thaw was severely beaten during a 1990 hunger strike and left paralyzed and without adequate medical attention until his death a year later. U Baw Thaw is one of four journalists, of about 20 known to have been imprisoned between 1990 and 2000, to die in Myanmar prisoners. Since the ruling military junta took power in 1988, freedom of statement has been severely hampered. Legislation enacted against anyone working for a publication containing "inaccurate ideas" or disseminating information "endangering state security, social peace, and the superiority of law and order" came with jail sentences from 7 to 20 years. The words "democracy" and "human rights" were stricken from the list of officially permitted vocabulary, and mention of the names of jailed or exiled writers was prohibited. Most imprisoned journalists have been arrested for practicing their profession and supporting the National League for Democracy (NLD), of which U Baw Thaw was an executive committee member. The NLD, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 80% of the vote in 1990 elections, but has never been recognized by the ruling military body.
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