Malaysians Kini

From a Burmese prison to Tunku's home

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MALAYSIANS KINI | In 1977, the Bangkok-based photojournalist Kim Gooi was sentenced to a year in a Burmese prison.

He was said to have violated immigration laws after he slipped into the rebellious Shan State. He thought he would die in jail.

Death was common in Burmese prisons, the “hell on Earth” he describes in “The Poet of Keng Tung Jail,” published in 2013. The book chronicles the horrors he faced on the inside, along with poems written by a fellow inmate and some of Kim’s photographs.

Yet prison was also the place where Kim would meet those who would eventually lead him to Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Father of Independence.

To Kim, the encounter with Tunku in 1978 was “a gift from above,” one of many recollections which he contributes to “Dialog: Thoughts on Tunku’s Timeless Thinking,” a 270-page compilation of anecdotes and essays by Malaysians about the country’s first prime minister.

While in prison, Kim was asked to pass a message to Tunku by a Burmese Muslim leader from Rangoon. At the time, 200,000 Muslims had just fled to Bangladesh due to persecution by Burmese authorities. It was also when Tunku served as the secretary-general of the World Islamic Council.

Kim was uncertain if Tunku would meet a “nobody” like him, but he took his chances and wrote to Malaysian Islamic Welfare Organisation (Perkim) anyway, as Tunku was head of the Penang branch.

“To my surprise, Perkim replied after a few days. They even asked for my mugshot as they wanted to print my letter to Tunku which detailed the plight of the Burmese Muslims,” Kim said in an interview with Malaysiakini....