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Monk Escapes from Lantalang Prison

October 2, 2008

From The Irrawaddy

A 28-year-old Burmese Buddhist monk, Ashin Pannasiri, has successfully escaped from Lantalang Prison in Chin State and arrived in Delhi, India, after 13 days.

Ashin Pannasiri said he climbed over two barbwire fences at about 1 am on September 16, when two security guards slept.

“When I climbed the posts, my hands and legs were scraped by barbwire. It was very painful, but I didn’t care about that,” he said. “I only cared about my life.”

In the days following his escape, he traveled alone and was unsure where the roads led. He survived by eating vegetables and fruit.

“I ate fruit wherever I found it the jungle, and I drank water from streams,” he said.

The monk crossed crossed into India at the Mizoram border. During the trip, he said he avoided local residents around Mizoram, fearing arrest and punishment.

“When they [local residents] saw me, they followed me,” he said. “I was afraid of them because I heard that strangers there can be killed or seriously punished if arrested.

Burmese authorities began searching for Ashin Pannasiri in late 2007 during the time of the civil uprising because of his close relationship with leading pro-democracy monks, including monk U Gambira, who is now in Insein Prison in Rangoon.

Ashin Pannasiri was affiliated with Yangon Monastery Maha Koe Su Taik in Pyigyitagun Township in Mandalay Division. When he learned he was wanted by authorities, he said he moved north to Monywa Township in Sagaing Division to escape arrest.

However, he was arrested on October 18, 2007, at an Internet shop in Monywa Township.

He said he was tortured by authorities, both physically and mentally, during interrogation.

“They [authorities] interrogated me from 18 through 20 October. They first asked me to stand up and squat repeatedly. They tied my hands behind my back and pushed and kicked me. They beat my face with an army boot when they asked each question.”

“Finally, I couldn’t control my mind, and there was no option for me. I thought about suicide,” he said.

On October 24, 2007, he was sent to Monywa Prison in Sagaing Division where he spent seven months. On January 18, 2008, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Authorities charged him with multiple offenses, including possession of illegal foreign currency.

In mid-May 2008, he was moved to Kale Prison in Sagaing Division where he spent a few weeks before being sent to Lantalang Prison.

On September 15, the day before he escaped from Lantalang, he was again questioned by authorities. He said that following the interrogation, he realized he would be sent back to Kale Prison with “double punishment,” convincing him he had no option but to try to escape.

Ashin Pannasiri is now staying with friends in Dehli. He said he plans to continue to struggle for freedom and peace in Burma while in exile.

“I want to urge all monks inside and outside Burma to fight against ah-dhamma (injustice) and maintain the dhamma (justice) policy,” he said.

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