News

Activist seeks freedom for Burma

ON A MISSION: Rotary Peace Fellow and former Burmese activist Naing Ko Ko is learning about Australian politics with Federal MP Janelle Saffin.
ON A MISSION: Rotary Peace Fellow and former Burmese activist Naing Ko Ko is learning about Australian politics with Federal MP Janelle Saffin. Doug Eaton

BURMESE political activist, democracy advocate and former political prisoner, Naing Ko Ko was in town this week, visiting old friend and Page MP, Janelle Saffin.

Naing's story is a powerful one, both uplifting and saddening.

He began fighting for democracy and peace after his experiences as a teenager in Burma, including seeing friends shot by generals.

He began appearing in protests and organising student groups, requesting democracy and human rights, before being arrested by the Military Intelligence Service in 1992 and made a political prisoner.

"I really would like to learn about Australian democracy. There's a lot we could learn about the Australian federal democracy system," he said.

He was incarcerated until 1998, spending time at different interrogation camps and jails, including the notorious Insein Prison, where he was kept in a dog cell - where prisoners were treated like dogs, even forced to bark - as punishment for learning English.

While in prison, Naing said he kept himself sane by reading and writing in English - even though that was what was getting him punished.

He said he knew if he wanted to make a difference he needed to learn English, and that kept him going.

Secondly, he felt he had a responsibility to help all the political prisoners and friends who were still on the inside when he was released.

"Most of us are students. We are not terrorists. We are not criminals," he said of himself and his fellow prisoners.

"We just wanted human rights and democracy."

After his release in 1998, Naing was invited by many European countries to work there, and spent time working with democracy groups and the European Parliament.

Now a resident of New Zealand after becoming a political refugee there, he is studying his Advanced Masters of International Relations at the University of Queensland via a Rotary Scholarship. He's also using the time to observe Australian democratic processes.

"I really would like to learn about Australian democracy. There's a lot we could learn about the Australian federal democracy system," he said.

"I hope that Burma is a free, peaceful democracy in 20 years, instead of (a country where everyone is) killing each other."

He said he could see change in the country now known as Myanmar, although there was still a long way to go.

"It is good; it is going in the right direction, step-by-step."

Naing said to create national reconciliation they must have open dialog between civilians and generals.

Topics:  burma, myanmar, page mp janelle saffin



Join the Community.

Get your local news, your way.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

World Environment Day M’bah gives power to the people

Last year more than 1500 attended the World Environment Day Festival at Knox Park, Murwillumbah.

Australia's first renewable eneregy co-op CEO a headlining act

Milk and bread almost killed me

Carly Hicks of Banora Point whips up a healthy meal.

It took three years for Carly Hicks to turn her life around

Dying man pays last tribute to Tweed charity

Ken Simpson, shortly before his passing, helped Wedgetail to fundraise.

Ken Simpson faced a grim, cold death on the streets

Latest deals and offers

IBAC Evidence Police Bashing 5

Officers drag the woman back to her cell

In this video the woman drinks water from the toilet.

IBAC Evidence Police Bashing 4

In this video the woman asks for water as the tap in the room is broken

IBAC Evidence Police Bashing 3

In this video police continue their search and male officers are present despite...

Perfect time to invest in Northern Rivers property

The Northern Rivers rental market is tighter than Sydney making it the perfect time for investors to get better returns out of property than superannuation or banks deposits.

Low interest rates and tight rental market are prime time to invest