Letter to the Editor
First Published in: Islamic Herald May 1978
[We publish below a letter received from Kim Gooi of Penang about conditions in Burmese goals having experienced life in one of them for nearly a year. A photo-journalist, he had been arrested for illegal entry into Burma and was released early in May this year. What is perhaps of greater interest was his association with many Muslim prisoners from whom he, though not a Muslim, received not only kindness but an insight into their problems which may have caused the present exodus into Bangladesh. – Ed.]
It was a terrible time and ordeal, and it was there in those terrible goals that I got acquainted with the Muslims and their problems and the most barbaric atrocities that they have been subjected to.
Today the world bears witness to hundreds of thousands of Arakan Muslims streaming across the border to Bangladesh, to escape, what the world still does not know, a most uncivilised and savage regime. Try to picture it in your mind that even during the worst days of the Vietnam War you don’t find refugees streaming across Thailand daily in their thousands. And Bangladesh is already the poorest nation in the world, and yet the Burmese Muslims keep coming across the border. So things had to be really bad in Burma. It is for these reasons that I am writing to you with the hope that something could be done to save the thousands of Muslims rotting in all Burmese goals in most primitive and barbaric conditions.
I had been asked time and again by the prisoners, or rather victims, to tell the proper authorities in Malaysia which they told in high esteem, and the world at large, about the truth in Burma. There is no doubt that the people I had encountered during my imprisonment look towards Malaysia respect and esteem of the highes order, Muslims or non-Muslims alike. In that sense I was lucky being a Malaysian citizen, for it was the Muslim community in the goal who helped me through the ordeal with the little clothings and food they had, even though they themselves were hard-pressed; and I am a non-Muslim but come from a Muslim country. It is the universal Muslim brotherhood spirit prevailing in the Muslim community in the prison that touches me: all or any Chinese Muslims who have escaped from Communist China, or those locally born, newly arrived in the goal with nothing except the clothing they had on, no friends, no relatives and no support (basic food and clothing) are received and taken care of by the Muslims who without any hesitation would share whatever meagre belongings and food they had with them so that they would not die.
The most immediate request from them is for Islamic books and literature with translations in Chinese or English, and the Holy Koran in Arabic with translation in Chinese. These religious books are most important to them as it is the spiritualism and the faith in God/Allah that keep them going and prevent them from going mad in such terribly barbaric condition. I hope you will grant them this request in the name of Allah.
In the whole of Burma, especially in the Arakan State, the business and commerce are in the hands of Muslims. They had already been robbed of their business and wealth in the sixties and now their lives are at stake.
In 1942 there was a bloody religious war between the Muslims and the Buddhists in the Arakan State and thousands died in the fighting, started by the Burmans who just wanted to plunder and steal. In 1957 and 1959 all the leaders of Arakan Muslims called ‘Mujahids’ were arrested and about 200 of them were brought to Rangoon goal. Today they are still there, but only 140 remain 60 having died. The oldest Mujahid is more than 90 years old; many have gone blind, half of them suffering from T.B. and their bodies bent with old age. They have no hope of getting out; death is their only salvation.
Even more shocking are the condition of the children in Rangoon goal. There are about 20 of them – aged between 2 to 10. They run about in the jail among murderers and thieves. Those who were born in the jail know nothing about the world. They are the children of refugees and illegal immigrants from China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Whole families had been arrested, and one of the mothers was pregnant at the time I was there. Some of the children were one or two years old when they came with their families. Now they are between eight to 16. They too have no hope of getting out. In the Rangoon goal which has 20,000 prisoners many people have gone mad. There are about 60 lepers and about the same number are insane, all mixing in the same compound. Beating and torture are a common occurrence. Poor food, inadequate washing, dirty sanitation, no proper medical care are their lot. They await a slow and agonising death. This is the fate of thousands of prisoners classified F.R.C. (foreign registration card holder), Mujahids, refugees and illegal immigrants.
You could have been born in Burma but, because you do not look Burman or are not considered Burman you are not a citizen. Today they say the Arakan Muslims who had been converted to Islam five to six hundred years ago are not Burmese but are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. On this pretext they had been hauling people into goal in Akyab, Mondu and Bhuttidong in Arakan Province and also in Rangoon so that they can take over their property, not to mention the torture, killing, rape, plunder etc. that have been going on.
The outside world is ignorant of such things, partly due to the secrecy and prohibition imposed on any news going out of the country by the government.
When seen against this background one will understand why thousands of Arakan Muslims have been and are streaming across into Bangladesh daily; and the flow is still continuing.
It is my sincere and humble wish that you will use your good offices to bring this matter to the attention of outside world, particularly the World Islamic Conference, so that thousands of innocent lives could be saved and this nightmare ended, in the name of Allah and humanity.