I met my dad for the first time when I was 4, and he was behind bars

Updated 0500 GMT (1300 HKT) November 13, 2021

Wai Hnin Pwint Thon is a Burmese human rights activist working for the nongovernmental organization Burma Campaign UK. She has been advocating for human rights and federal democracy in Burma, now widely known as Myanmar, for over a decade. Wai Hnin is also a fellow of the Renew Democracy Initiative's Frontlines of Freedom project. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)I was 4 years old when my mom took me to meet my dad for the first time. I thought we were traveling to a park or a playground, but then we arrived outside Insein prison in Rangoon (present day Yangon), Burma, and I was even more impressed. It was a massive compound with an imposing red entrance and more guards than I could count.

Wai Hnin Pwint Thon
"Is daddy very wealthy?," I asked. My mom told me to keep quiet and stay close to her. Men in uniform drilled her with questions, while other guards rummaged through the gifts that we had brought for my dad.
After waiting for hours in the scorching sun, we were finally allowed into a room where we met a man dressed in all white, and in handcuffs and shackles. I recognized him instantly -- this was my father whose photo had hung on a glass cabinet in my house for as far back as I could remember. His wild hair from the photo wasn't so wild anymore, but he still had that friendly smile on his face. I wanted to hug him, even though there were iron bars between us. I reached out my fingers so I could at least touch his hand.