Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

On the evening of 24 September, Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, Minister of Religious Affairs, was quoted on state television as warning that action would be taken against the monks if they continued their protests. From 26 September through 2 October, the authorities staged a violent crackdown. At least 31 (and likely more than a hundred) persons were killed--with many more injured and at least 74 disappeared38--and 3,000-4,000 people were detained. 39The authorities also raided over 50 monasteries nationwide between 25 September and 6 October, ordering all monks back to their home towns, and assaulting, arresting, or otherwise repressing many monks in this process. In the weeks and months that followed, as the testimonies and information below reveal, they tortured both religious and lay detainees and deprived them of their fair trial rights.


3.1.1 August and September: Crackdown


U Khe Maine Dha, a 29 year-old monk from Mrauk Oo township, told Amnesty International how he helped organize that first march of 28 August, five days before it took place, but did not get to join it himself.


On the night of the 23rd, the authorities, having learned of the meeting I had called and held that day with about 150 monks at the Wetherly grounds in Sittwe, visited many monasteries, including Myo Ma monastery where I was staying. I fled out the back when they arrived. First I went to Ray Shan Byin village for a day, before spending three more days travelling to Maungdaw township. Two days later, I left Myanmar in civilian clothes.


We organized the march to demand a reduction in fuel prices, the release of all political prisoners, and tripartite dialogue in Myanmar. These were not that different from the things we were seeking on 17 March 2003 when a smaller number of monks and students took to the streets then too. Maung Oo, currently the government's Home Minister, held a gun to my chest that day. This time, however, I had to run away.


Indeed, official persecution of this activism--a month before the Brigadier General's warning noted above--began immediately: authorities arrested five of the monks on 28 August, as well as Han Min Ni, 24, and Maung Soe Than, two Rakhine lay persons who gave water to the monks. Three days later, authorities in Taunggut township arrested two men, Sithu and Than Lwin, for carrying sign boards in the streets declaring, "People Are Starving!". A court sentenced them to one year each in prison, after which they were released.


Amnesty International was told that in early September 2007 military authorities bulldozed and then set afire Theik Thapon monastery in Theik Thapon Khami village in Kyauktaw township, because its abbot, 79 year-old Thi Law Ka, was involved in the demonstrations and agreed to shelter four other monks who were also involved.


On 2 September, authorities arrested Ray Thein (also known as Bu Maung), NLD secretary in Buthidaung township, for staging a solo protest against the government. Though released on 5 September, authorities arrested him again on 19 November for reasons that are unclear. They again released him in May 2008, but sent him to a mental institution in Yangon for a period of time and banned him from Buthidaung township.


U Kaw Ma La, a 68 year-old monk from Sittwe's "meditation temple", participated in daily demonstrations there from 28 August through 9 September--the day the authorities issued a warrant for his arrest. He spoke to Amnesty International of his arrest and ill-treatment: