Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

Moreover, the images and accounts from the ethnic states over the past two decades have further conveyed a somewhat distorted impression internationally of the situation of the country's ethnic minorities: armed insurgent and ceasefire groups, some bankrolled by illegal drugs; counter-insurgency campaigns by the military, replete with mass human rights violations; 23dam, pipeline, and other development and infrastructure projects, paid for by foreign investment and some constructed by forced labour; and mass internal and cross-border displacement, dealt with by international aid agencies. Thus, ethnic minorities are often seen as insurgents, drug-runners, victims of human rights violations, and refugees--but not often as key components of the widespread political opposition or activists.


The government of Myanmar, of course, has never shared this misconception. Its human rights record just since August 2007--to say nothing of the more than two decades since 1988--reveals official repression of political opposition and activism on a diverse and widespread scale in the ethnic minority states and elsewhere.


Government actions in response to activists' attempts to commemorate peacefully the 20th anniversary of the August 1988 uprising is an illustrative example. A young man from Taunggut township in Rakhine State told Amnesty International: 24


At the end of July 2008, four friends and I travelled to Yangon after collecting money from others for a campaign marking the 20th anniversary. With the money we printed t-shirts with a clock reading 8:08 [8 August] on the front, spending five days in Yangon and returning to Taunggut on 3 August. On the 7th, 42 of us gathered at my house to eat and plan our activities for the next day, which began at 6:00 am on U Ottama Road. We wore the t-shirts, held portraits of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and walked to the Phaungtaw Oo monastery. We even walked right by the police station, for the officers were still asleep. One police eventually stopped us in front of the courthouse, and when other police arrived, they arrested all 42 of us and took us to the local administration office.


They placed us all in the same room and asked us about the demonstration and by what group it was organized. We replied that it wasn't against the government, but just an effort to remember in a religious way those who died on '8888', and that we had organized ourselves for the event. The police then told us that we had broken the law, since no more than five persons are allowed to gather, and ordered us to take off our commemorative t-shirts. Everyone, including me, obeyed, except five people: Ni Ni May Myint (f), 19 years old, Moe Nay Soe (m), 28, Than Lwin (m), 25, Chid Maung Maung (m), 23, and Ko Maung Maung Thet (m), 23. So the police released the rest of us, but told the other five--whom they began calling "leaders"--to sign a paper stating that they were refusing to take off the shirts, which they did. The police then took them to Thandwe prison, and on 15 August, the Thandwe district court sentenced them to two and a half years' imprisonment.


A month later, on 9 September--U Ottama Day--my five friends began a hunger strike in prison demanding the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and so the police moved them to Buthidaung prison, much further away from their families and friends. They remain there today, and because visitors are very rare and medical attention in the prison is inadequate, they are in poor health.



2.1 ETHNIC minorities in Myanmar