10/03/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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I, Ashin Pannasiri, dissident monk escaped from Burmese prison

Arrested in October of 2007 at an internet cafe, he got away last September 16 and was taken in by some friends in India. He recounts the torture and "physical and psychological" violence he suffered in prison. From New Delhi, the "struggle for freedom and peace in Burma" will continue.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Ashin Pannasiri, a 28-year-old Buddhist monk arrested on October 18, 2007 at an internet cafe in the city of Monywa, has escaped from a Burmese prison. He tells the story of his escape to the dissident newspaper The Irrawaddy, explaining that the escape took place on September 16, and that after traveling for 13 days he found refuge in New Delhi, in India.

The newspaper also reveals the details of the escape: at about one in the morning on September 16, the monk climbed two barbed wire fences, taking advantage of the fact that the guards were sleeping. After leaving the prison of Lantalang, in the state of Chin - in the western part of the country on the border with India and Bangladesh, among the poorest and most backward places in all of Myanmar - he headed to the border. After crossing the border in Mizoram, the monk entered Indian territory, and - without a clear idea where he was going - headed toward New Delhi, where he arrived at the end of September, after being on the run for 13 days.

"When I climbed the fences, my hands and legs were scraped by the barbed wire", Ashin Pannasiri explains. "It was very painful, but I didn’t care about that. I only cared about my life". After this, he traveled alone, not sure where he was going, eating the fruit and vegetables he could find along the way and drinking from the streams. When he crossed the border, he says he "carefully avoided the inhabitants of Mizoram", who had begun to follow him. "I was afraid of them, because I heard that strangers there can be killed or seriously punished if arrested".

During his time in prison, he says he was "repeatedly" subjected to "interrogations, torture, and physical and psychological threats". "The authorities interrogated me from 18 through 20 October. They first made me 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 was locked up in the Monywa prison on October 24, 2007, in the district of Sagaing, where he spent seven months. On January 18, 2008, he was sentenced to three years in prison on the basis of various accusations, including that of illegally possessing foreign currency. In the May, the authorities transferred him to the prison of of Kale, also in the district of Sagaing, where he remained for several weeks before being moved to the prison of Lantalang.

On September 15, the day before his escape, he was again interrogated by officials, after which he had the sense that they were about to move him to the prison of Kale and increase his punishment, which led him to believe that his only solution was "a desperate escape attempt". Now Ashin Pannasiri has found safety among friends in New Delhi, and he says that from there, he intends to continue "the struggle for freedom and peace in Burma".

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