Ma Thida

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Ma Thida (ca. 1966) is a Burmese surgeon, writer, human rights activist and former prisoner of conscience.[1] She has published under the pseudonym Suragamika which means "brave traveler". In Myanmar, Thida is best known as a leading intellectual, whose books deal with the country's political situation.[1] She has worked as an editor at a Burmese monthly youth magazine and a weekly newspaper.[1] She has been a surgeon at Muslim Free Hospital, which provides free services to the poor.[2]

Life and works[edit]

Ma Thida studied medicine in the early 1980s earning a degree in surgery, and also took up writing at a young age.[1] She said, "I wanted to become a writer because I want to share what I observe around me, like poverty."[1] Her interest in health care developed after falling ill as a child.[1]

In October 1993, she was sentenced to 20 years in Insein Prison for "endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organisations, and distributing unlawful literature."[2] In fact, she was actively supporting Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and founder of the main opposition party in Burma.[3] She served nearly six years in unhealthy, mostly solitary conditions. She contracted tuberculosis without adequate access to medical care.[4] During this time she was awarded several international human rights awards, including the Reebok Human Rights Award (1996) and the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award (1996).[1] Ma Thida said, "Were it not for vipassana (Buddhist meditation), I would not have overcome the untold hardships I faced in prison."[1] In 1999, she was released on "humanitarian grounds" after serving five years, six months and six days.[2] She was released due to declining health, increasing political pressure and the efforts of human rights organizations like Amnesty International and PEN International.[3] Later she chaired the Pen Myanmar.[5]

From 2008 to 2010, she lived in the US as an International Writers Project Fellow at Brown University and a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University.[1]

Her first book was The Sunflower, which was only released in Burma in 1999, as it was banned upon international release in the early 1990s.[1] The book argues that the Burmese people have high expectations of democracy icon Suu Kyi that made her "a prisoner of applause."[1] The Roadmap (2012) is a fictional story based on events in Burmese politics from 1988 to 2009.[1] The Myanmar-language book Sanchaung, Insein, Harvard is a memoir, as the title suggests, about her early life in Sanchaung, imprisonment in Insein, and time in the United States.[4]

In the month of July 2016, the English translation of her prison memoir "Sanchaung, Insein, Harvard" was published worldwide with the title of "Prisoner of Conscience: My Steps through Insein" by Silkworm, publishing house in Thailand.[6]

She was honored with the 2016 'Disturbing the Peace' award given by the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation, for her humanitarian values and for having suffered unjust persecution for her beliefs.[7] In 2016, she was elected to the board of PEN International at 82nd PEN International Congress held in Galician, Spain.[8]


  • The Sunflower (1999)
  • In the Shade of an Indian Almond Tree (1999)
  • Sweet and spicy honey mud (1999)
  • Insight of colorful lights and beyond esthetic border (1999)
  • One, Zero and Ten for Teens (2003)
  • Message to Teen (2011)
  • Translation of Japanese Women's Poems (2011)
  • The Roadmap (2011)
  • Sanchaung, Insein, Harvard (2012)
  • A Letter for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi(2013)
  • The imperishable dictum (2014)
  • Brown to Crimson, a personal memoir of experience of Brown University and Radcliff fellowship of Harvard University (2014)[9]
  • What is independent citizen's spirit?, editorials from the Myanmar Independent news journals (2014)
  • Youths who dare to live and compete, articles about youths all over the words who have some difficulties or disabilities but be capable of extra-ordinary works (2014)
  • Nothing to lose but your life (Translation Work @ 2015)
  • From Selfishness to Leaving from Fear, compilation of short stories, collection of 53 short stories (2015)
  • Sunflower second edition (2015)
  • Prisoner of Conscience: My Steps through Insein (Prison Memoir @ 2016)
  • Writing of Ma Thida (2016)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kyaw Phyo Tha (January 5, 2013). "I Write Just to Be 'A Good Citizen,' Says Ma Thida". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Mita Kapur (February 27, 2010). "'I write from my heart'". The Hindu. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Christopher Baker (September 26, 2008). "Thida: Imprisonment a temporary death". Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Zon Pann Pwint (19 November 2012). "Author tells of health problems, inhumane prison conditions". The Myanmar Times. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Dr. Ma Thida". International Festival of Authors. 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
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