Ohn Than

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Ohn Than
Native name အုန်းသန်း
Born 1946 (1946) (age 71)
Ngathinechaung Township, Irrawaddy Division, British Burma
Nationality Burmese
Alma mater Rangoon University

Ohn Than (Burmese: အုန်းသန်း, pronounced: [ʔóʊɴ θáɴ]; commonly written U Ohn Than, following Burmese honorific conventions; born 1946) is a Burmese democracy activist who received international attention for his "stoic one-man protests".[1] He spent the majority of the years from 1988 to 2012 imprisoned, and Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience.

Personal life[edit]

Ohn Than was born in 1946 in Ngathinechaung Township, Irrawaddy Division.[2] He received a B.Sc. in forestry from Rangoon University in 1971, and began working for the State Timber Corporation, where he served until his first arrest.[2]

Ohn Than is a widower, and has one son and one daughter.[2]

Role in 8888 Uprising[edit]

In 1988, a series of protests broke out opposing the military rule of Ne Win.[3] In September 1987, Ne Win had voided most denominations of the kyat without warning, causing many people to lose their savings overnight.[4] Students who saved money for tuition fees were particularly affected.[4] The announcement led to riots at several universities.[5] The situation was further exacerbated by the shooting of protesting student Phone Maw in a 12 March 1988 clash with police.[6] The student-led protests continued to grow through August of that year, and on 8 August 1988 (8-8-88), a general strike began from which the 8888 Uprising would later take its name.[7]

Ohn Than became involved in the uprising at this time, leading protests in Shwegoo township in Kachin State.[2] He was arrested and sentenced to 8 years' imprisonment under the Emergency Provision Act, Section 5 (J).[2] He passed one and a half years of this sentence at Bamaw prison and four and a half years at Mandalay prison before his 1995 release.[2]

In 1996, he was rearrested for distributing a pamphlet titled "A Call for the Fight for Burma’s Human Rights".[2] He was sentenced again under Emergency Provision Act, Section 5 (J) and imprisoned for seven more years, this time in Tharrawaddy prison.[2] He was released in 2003.

2004 solo protest[edit]

On 21 September 2004, Ohn Than staged his first solo protest, standing alone before the Yangon office of the United Nations Development Program with a poster calling for free elections and a UN investigation of the "Depayin Massacre".[8] The protest was timed to match the first day of the current United Nations General Assembly session.[8] Three men appeared during his demonstration and led him away.[8] Another man, Thet Wai, was arrested and charged with aiding him the following day.[8]

Thet Wai and Ohn Than were subsequently sentenced to two years' imprisonment apiece under Burmese penal code article 505(b): "intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility".[8]

2007 solo protests and imprisonment[edit]

Ohn Than standing across from the American embassy in August 2007

On 12 February 2007—Burma's Union Day—Ohn Than again appeared in international news by protesting alone outside of the National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon.[9]

In August 2007, a new wave of protests hit Yangon following unrest over rising food and fuel prices. These protests would later become popularly known as the "Saffron Revolution" after the robe color of the many Buddhist monks who took a leadership role.[10]

Ohn Than again helped lead the protests, staging another solo demonstration before the US Embassy in downtown Yangon on 23 August.[11] He held up posters calling for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to intervene to protect protesters from military reprisals, and for troops in the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces) to refuse the orders of their superiors.[12] One sign read:[1]

Form a Government that Represents the People / Listen and Act On What People Want / End Military Ruling, Now China and Russia's Vetoes—Go To Hell!

His protest ended when he was arrested by plainclothes security forces.[13]

He was subsequently held in a military camp until January 2008,[12] when he was taken to Yangon's Insein Prison for trial on charges under article 124 (A) of the criminal code, “acts that destabilize the government".[14] Amnesty International reports that he was not allowed legal representation.[12] On 3 April 2008, he was given a life sentence and a fine of less than $1 USD.[15] He was subsequently moved between three different prisons, ending at Khamti prison in Sagiang Division.[12] In June 2008, he contracted cerebral malaria, but recovered.[12]

Ohn Than's sentence was protested by Human Rights Watch, which included him in its report Burma's Forgotten Prisoners.[1] Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience and also demanded his immediate release.[16]


According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Ohn Than was pardoned on 13 January 2012, as part of a series of amnesties for political prisoners.[17]


  1. ^ a b c "Burma's Forgotten Prisoners". Human Rights Watch. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "A former political prisoner was arrested for protesting alone in front of the United Nations office in Rangoon". Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. 23 September 2004. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  3. ^ "Profile: 88 Generation Students". BBC News. 22 August 2007. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Burma's 1988 protests". BBC News. 25 September 2007. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Lwin, Nyi Nyi. (1992). Refugee Student Interviews. A Burma-India Situation Report.
  6. ^ Boudreau, Vincent. (2004). Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-83989-1. p. 193.
  7. ^ Tucker, Shelby. (2001). Burma: The Curse of Independence. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-1541-6. p. 228
  8. ^ a b c d e "Burma: U Ohn Than, a solo protester in front of UN Office and Thet Wai Pauk Sa who assisted were sentenced to 2 years imprisonment". Asian Tribune. 29 October 2004. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  9. ^ Aye Aye Win (13 February 2007). "Myanmar Extends Opposition's Detention". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Chang R. Lee (30 June 2009). "Showcase: Exiled but Still Fighting". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  11. ^ "Solo protestor suffering from cerebral malaria". Democratic Voice of Burma. 28 May 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "MYANMAR: Peaceful Protester Jailed For Life" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  13. ^ "Solo Protester Arrested in Rangoon". The Irrawaddy. 25 August 2007. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  14. ^ "Burmese Authorities Stifle Opposition to Constitution". The Irrawaddy. 3 April 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  15. ^ Jonathan Head (4 April 2008). "Silent Burmese protester jailed". BBC News. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  16. ^ "Myanmar, Unlock the Prison Doors!" (PDF). Amnesty International. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 1, 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  17. ^ "Released 217 PPs". Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. 14 January 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 

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