In 1993, 27-year-old Dr. Ma Thida was just beginning her career in medicine when she was sent to Burma’s Insein Prison for allegedly having contact with anti-government organizations.
Thida was a strong supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the main opposition party in Burma, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
As a young woman who already suffered from endometriosis, she knew her health was failing. Thida had developed a fever, which lasted for six months, and walking had now become a struggle for the spirited activist. Her weight dropped to an alarming 79 pounds and her heart sank as the prison became her new home.
In prison, Thida was locked in her cell for over 23 hours a day and developed a severe case of tuberculosis. She remained there for six years in mostly solitary conditions before she was released on humanitarian grounds because of pressure from organizations such as Amnesty International.
Now 48, the surgeon, writer and human rights activist recalls her terrifying experience and her release from prison on humanitarian grounds.
“I want to live. If I want to die, it’s easy,” she told the audience at Ryerson University’s George Vari Computing and Engineering Centre, where the event was held.
Another guest speaker, Nay Phone Latt, also spoke at the event.
When Latt was eight years old in 1988, the uprising in Burma marked a new age of censorship and terror for the country.
As a writer with a passion for politics, the now 34-year-old Latt grew up in a politically-involved family which supported the country’s National League for Democracy. While working in Singapore, he was inspired to create a blog. As the 2007 revolution in Burma inspired the country’s youth to embrace technology, Latt opened three Internet cafes.
Without the mandatory government control which monitored technology in Burma, these cafes were ulicensedand illegal. Latt was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2008, but was released in 2012.
“I’m 34 years old, but I tell everyone I am actually 30. I lost four years of my life in prison,” he said.
The evening’s third special guest was short story writer Khin Mya Zin. In 2012, she won the Myanmar National Literary Award for her collection of short stories, Clouds in the Sky and Other Stories.