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Activists put Burma's grim jails on display

A simple museum tucked away on the Thai-Burmese border re-creates the infamous prisons.

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Iron shackles lie heaped in the corner. A cement-gray jumpsuit, block letters emblazoned across the front, hangs from the wall. Wooden chess pieces, carved by Burmese prisoners, sit nearby.

But this 10-by-10-square-foot room isn't actually a prison cell – the notorious prisons in Burma (Myanmar) are, of course, off limits to visitors. Instead, former political prisoners now hiding in Thailand have built a "prison museum" to expose the conditions inside the detention centers.

The replica on the Thai-Burmese border re-creates prison conditions, which curators hope will expose visitors to the plight of political prisoners.

"We have to preserve the memory of the victims of the military regime," says staff member and former prisoner Aung Kyaw Do. 

The museum – created by a group of former political prisoners called the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB) when it formed in 2000 – helps raise international awareness of the situation in Burma, even though it may not alter politics "on a grand scale," says Nancy Wu, an aid worker with Burma Issues, a nongovernmental organization based in Mae Sot.

Burma's treatment of political prisoners has drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups for years. There's little sign that prison conditions are improving. At least 2,092 political prisoners are being held in detention centers across the country, according to AAPPB.

Last September's "saffron revolution" – when monks led an uprising against the regime and the government cracked down – triggered a fresh wave of arrests and lengthy prison sentences. Authorities arrested over 5,000 people, including 2,000 monks. Though many were eventually released, close to 200 monks and hundreds of other activists are still being detained.


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