Myanmar Reporter Spends Birthday In Prison

Tu Tu Tha is not known for hosting grand birthday parties. Her previous parties were simple but memorable events marked by singing and time spent with family and friends.
She was deprived of such an opportunity this year. After spending more than four months behind bars, she turned 50 on Saturday.
I don’t think Tu Tu Tha is a criminal. Author of several books, trainer of journalists, and former editor with experience in a variety of newsrooms, she has more than two decades of experience.
On April 24, she was accused of failing to report herself as an overnight guest to military authorities along with one of her two sons, 18-year-old Nyan Lu Thit; her younger brother, Ye Naung; and a friend of her son.
Their families and friends hoped that they would be released shortly after they were detained, but all four are still in jail. After spending three nights at the military’s Shwepyithar interrogation center, Tu Tu Tha was sent to the infamous Insein Prison. Later, she was charged with incitement under Section 505a of the penal code, a crime punishable by three years in prison if convicted.
In the four months that she has been in prison, she has not been allowed to visit any of her relatives in person.
After Tu Tu Tha’s trial began in a closed prison court, all hearings were halted in late June due to an outbreak of Covid-19 inside and outside the prison.
Following the February 1 military coup, thousands of people were arbitrarily arrested by the junta. More than 6,000 people have been detained by the regime in prisons across the country, most of whom are charged with incitement and terrorism for participating in anti-coup activities.
Tu Tu Tha began his career as an engineer at the Government Technical Institute (GTI) in Yangon. Despite her father’s encouragement to attend the school, whose cartoons appeared in newspapers and magazines from the 1970s to the early 1990s, Tu Tu Tha found she was not cut out for engineering and decided to pursue literature instead, a passion from childhood. Still, her love of the more than 120-year-old GTI school and the years she spent there was reflected in her most recent novel, which was released in early 2020. The title of the book, Bandamar Lan Ka Alwan Chay Yar, derives from the tree-lined streets in front of the dorm where she once lived.
My inspiration [for that book] was always in my heart. Nevertheless, I lost my computer while I was writing the book and was already halfway through. ‘It took me two more years to rewrite it from scratch,’ Tu Tu Tha said in a media interview at her book launch in March last year.
A Phay Kyaung, or Father’s School, also demonstrates her commitment to writing works inspired by real-life events. A book published in 2015, it tells the stories of four Burmese migrants to Thailand and explores the struggles surrounding migrant children’s access to education.
As an editor for The Irrawaddy news magazine in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she wrote under the pen name Aye Chan Myae, she was inspired to write that book.
Tu Tu Tha wrote the script for a film by the same name. The film was made in 2012 and released in 2016, directed by filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is also currently in prison with Tu Tu Tha after being arrested on the day of the coup. Ye Deight, the lead actor, is also detained in Insein. Earlier this month, he was arrested and charged with the same offense as Tu Tu Tha.
When The Irrawaddy opened an office in Yangon in 2013, Tu Tu Tha and her colleagues returned to Myanmar after five years in Thailand.
Ye Ni, editor of The Irrawaddy’s Burmese edition, described his former colleague Tu Tu Tha as a dedicated journalist and writer who shouldn’t be locked up, and he urged the immediate release of all political prisoners, including journalists, authors, and poets.
Dedicated to and operating from her home township, Tu Tu Tha founded the Thanlyin Post in 2016. For around two years, she ran the publication until she could no longer afford it. Tu Tu Tha then went on to become a part-time trainer at the Myanmar Journalism Institute.
Tu Tu Tha’s friends, former colleagues, and family are concerned about her health amid reports of widespread Covid-19 infections at Insein Prison. In a letter to her family dated August 20, she wrote that she indeed had fallen sick for a few days but had since recovered, according to a relative who asked not to be named for security reason

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