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Myanmar crackdown intensifies as air strikes lead to more killings and displacement

46 children have died during the protest crackdown and air strikes

By Global Voices South East Asia

This article originally appeared on Medium and was written by a blogger who doesn’t wish to be identified. An edited version is published here.

Note: This article contains disturbing images of violence.

Throughout March 2021, Myanmar’s military regime continued its brutal suppression of civilian movements that were calling for the restoration of democracy in the country since the military coup of February 1.

Since February, protests across the country have been challenging the military rule. Starting in March, the junta ramped up its crackdown on peaceful protesters.

As pressure from the ethnic armed organizations (EAO) grew stronger, the final week of March saw the bloodiest reprisals from the Myanmar military, which launched airstrikes on villages in EAO-controlled areas. As of April 2, 550 protesters, including 46 children, had been killed while around 12,900 villagers have fled their homes to escape clashes between the military regime and EAOs in Karen and Kachin states.

Below is a timeline of violence inflicted by the junta on civilians and protesters during the second half of March:

On March 19, a military operation in a small city of Aung Ban in Shan state was responsible for the deaths of nine protesters.

Starting on March 21, the regime intensified the violence in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan state. Footage shared on Facebook showed soldiers shooting protesters and torturing civilians in their homes.

On the same day, the military ramped up night crackdowns in parts of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, and killed five people, including a 15-year-old boy. The crackdown continued in Mandalay the next day with the killing of four more people, one of whom was a 13-year-old boy.

On March 23, soldiers raided a home and shot a seven-year-old girl while she was in her father’s arms. Her 19-year-old brother was also severely hit in the head with a rifle butt and was arrested by the soldiers. These children were the first of many victims of military’s intensified attacks against the youth.

In three days of continuous violence in Mandalay, 22 people were reportedly killed.

On March 24, a nationwide “silent day” strike was organized across the country, where people “protested” by not going out on the streets while shops and markets were also closed.

“Day of shame”

On Saturday, March 27, while junta leaders celebrated “Armed Forces Day” in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, the forces of the regime unleashed the most ruthless attack against protesters causing a bloodbath in 40 cities across the country. The death toll reached 114.

That day, five children were also killed. A 13-year-old boy from Mingalar Taung Nyunt ward of Yangon was shot by riot police while he was playing on the street. His body was taken by the police. A one-year-old child was also severely injured with a rubber bullet. By that time, 29 people under 18 had already been killed by the military across the country.

In the city of Dawei, CCTV footage showed the regime’s soldiers on a truck trying to kill three civilians on a motorbike that was merely crossing the street. Two escaped but one person was shot dead.

Perhaps the most heinous crime was a military raid during a night in Mandalay when they burned a resident alive.

Before the bloodbath, the regime confirmed in a state television announcement that it was enforcing a policy of shooting people in the head, and warned that it would do more if people continue protests.

Because of this and the high number of fatalities, the international community dubbed Myanmar military regime’s Armed Forces Day as a “Day of Shame.”

The Armed Forces Day was originally known as Resistance Day when the Myanmar army expelled Japanese forces during the Second World War. Later on, the military junta changed it to Armed Forces Day, locally known as Tatmadaw Day (တပ်မတော်နေ့).

As a symbol of fascist resistance, activists asked the people to come out for nationwide demonstrations on March 27.

Continuing impunity

On Sunday, March 28, the military crackdown in the central city of Monywa, where mass protests had been going on every day, saw five people killed.

In Yangon, there were also reports of the military using live grenades in the neighborhood of Hlaing.

At night, the military launched a crackdown in the city of Pathein in the delta region amid electricity and internet blackouts.

Similarly in Yangon’s South Dagon township, the military used submachine guns during the night crackdown.

The crackdown continued in March 29 in South Dagon, where the regime’s forces used RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) launchers to break down the strong resistance of the protesters. Another person was also found with his/her body burnt at night in the street by the military (it was not clear if he/she was still alive at the time of burning). Twenty-one people were confirmed dead during the two-day clampdown.

Civilians from the city of Kalay and nearby areas, where there is a majority of Chin ethnic people, had been also putting up a tough fight against the military forces for three days since March 30. Seventeen civilians died during that clash.

Air strikes in ethnic villages

Since March 11, the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) had been attacking military bases near Hpa-Kant, a northern town in the Kachin state. The military reportedly retaliated with air strikes against the KIA.

A decade-long civil war between the KIA and the Myanmar military has been ongoing since 2011 with occasional ceasefire agreements.

The KIA claimed that it renewed offensives against the junta because of the Tatmadaw’s atrocities against civilians.

On March 23, the AA (Arakan Army) from the Rakhine state also condemned the violence of the Tatmadaw forces. This was significant because the military granted a ceasefire with the AA when the coup began, which ended bouts of intensified fighting in the Rakhine state that began in 2018. On March 11, the military council had also removed the previous designation of the AA as a terrorist group.

On Armed Forces Day, March 27, the KNU (Karen National Union) attacked and captured a military base near Thee Mutra in the Karen state.

On the same evening, the Myanmar military started retaliating with airstrikes in KNU controlled territories. Continuous aerial bombings during the weekend had forced over 10,000 people from nearby villages to flee their homes. Air attacks continued until March 30 which killed at least 20 civilians.

By March 28, the KIA had captured four military bases near the city of Hpa-Kant. The next day, the military retaliated with an air strike. More people had fled due to the fighting in the Hpa-Kant area.

On March 30, a coalition of ethnic armed groups, namely the MNDAA (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army), the AA (Arakan Army) and the TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army) released a statement saying they will defend and stand with civilians if military crackdowns continued.

Over 46 children have died in the past two months during the protests and the air strikes since February 1.

People’s defiance

Throughout the second half of March, many cities across Myanmar continued to show defiance by demonstrating in the streets.

In Yangon, having experienced inhumane clampdowns, young people continued to show up in random street lanes within neighborhoods using guerrilla-style tactics to evade military forces.

Protesters also chose unusual hours like dawn or night in organizing actions. Other protests used symbolic actions such as red balloons or flowers, without people to avoid being arrested or killed.

On the night of March 31, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (a counter government body set up by ousted parliament members), introduced the Federal Democracy Charter as a roadmap to move forward the country’s political future in the fight against the brutal military regime, and declared that the 2008 Constitution, drafted by the previous junta, had been abolished.

Over the next few days, people protested by burning the constitution and also its flag across different cities.

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters include DIY shields, women’s sarongs in their defensive arsenal

Protesters never seem to run out of ideas, or audacity

By Global Voices South East Asia

This edited article originally appeared on the blog of a Global Voices contributor who doesn’t wish to be identified.

The death toll of Myanmar’s protesters had already reached more than 217 by Wednesday, March 17 as the military ramped up its violent crackdown on the anti-coup resistance.

The Myanmar military, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, staged a coup on February 1 and replaced the civilian government with a “military council,” having accused elected leaders of the National League for Democracy of committing massive fraud in the November 2020 election.

Read More: Coup and resistance in Myanmar: A timeline of the first month under the 2021 military junta

The military has been conducting nightly raids and arbitrary arrests. Many people have died during these detentions from beatings and torture—acts of terror intended to instil fear. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there were 1,873 confirmed political prisoners as of March 14.

Despite the intensified violence unleashed by security forces in recent weeks, young pro-democracy protesters continued to show no signs of fear or slowing down their peaceful protests across the country. They even came up with different physical and psychological defence strategies to deter the riot police.

In Yangon, people set up protest stations in their own neighbourhoods with makeshift defence barriers, rather than going to a massive gathering point as protesters had done in February. The barriers, made of local resources such as sandbags, large trash bins, concrete blocks, bricks and even large PVC pipes, were meant to slow down the soldiers while protesters retreated to safety.

Frontline protectors, mainly local youths, are often the first line of defence. This is a dangerous spot since their DIY shields, made of plastic, wood, or iron from recycled barrels, do not protect them from live ammunition. Wearing DIY vests and construction hats, they risk their lives to buy some time for other protesters to escape before the arrival of police and military forces. The riot police are mostly soldiers dressed in police uniforms. Many frontline protesters were violently beaten [Warning: VIOLENT IMAGERY] or tortured [GRAPHIC IMAGERY] during detention.

Tear gas bombs are defused by frontline protesters by using wet blankets and water bags that have been prepared by residents of the neighbourhood. They also use improvised gas masks, goggles, and other protective gear.

Demoralizing the coup leader

Protesters have been placing pictures of Min Aung Hlaing on the streets or on the ground in front of defence barriers based on the belief that soldiers stepping on the face of their leader could be accused of showing disrespect. This tactic aims to slow down the soldiers because they would have to remove the pictures first before attacking protesters. Some protesters put pictures of the general on their shields hoping that soldiers would not shoot directly into the face of their leader.

The tactic worked for a few days as soldiers tediously removed images of the general before advancing toward the protesters. As more crackdowns happened, the tactic has become less effective as riot police ignored the images. The footage of a soldier deliberately goose-stepping on the general’s face has become viral.

In Myaung Mya and other cities people placed pictures of the general on tombs as a way to demoralize the coup leader.

ထဘီ ခံတပ်: Women’s sarong defence line

ထဘီခံတပ် (“Hta-main-khan-tat”), which means “women’s sarong defence line,” draws from the superstition that male soldiers who go under a clothesline used for women’s clothes, particularly women’s sarongs (ထဘီ/hta-main) and underwear, would fall in battle.

The idea comes from the deep-rooted misogyny within Myanmar’s military that regards women or women’s bodies as being inferior or impure. Myanmar’s military subscribes to the patriarchal superstition that women’s sarongs impair the virtue of men (ဘုန်း or “Hpone”), and thus, soldiers will lose protection in battle.

Indeed, soldiers stopped and tried to remove the clotheslines of women’s sarongs on the streets before they moved forward.

In some cities, protesters have gone as far as publicly putting Min Aung Hlaing’s pictures on women’s underwear as well as menstrual pads.

While these moves are welcomed as effective ways to slow down, people were also urged not to promote misogyny. A Twitter user pointed out that while battling against the violent military, protesters must also battle against internalized sexism.

It is awesome that we are using sarong clotheslines to fight back the extreme patriarchy of the terrorist [military council]. But we must also understand among ourselves that sarong clotheslines are there to protect people and they are not there to be inferior.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, Myanmar women protesters marched in front of a rally holding up sarong flags to fight both the military dictatorship and society’s misogyny.

On social media, young men also posted pictures of themselves wearing women’s sarongs on their heads and holding up three fingers to symbolize their rejection of the idea about ဘုန်း (“Hpone”) or male virtue.

An activist, Aung Myo Min, wrote about the opportunity to fight both the dictatorship and misogyny.

Translation:

The words that my grandma used to say when I was young now became true. She said “don’t low down on women. We will raise our hta-main (sarong) flag.”

This is the day we break down both the military dictatorship and the beliefs that sarongs are inferior and women are weak.

Today..

International Women Day

08–03–2021

Original:

ငယ်ငယ်က အဖွားပြောပြောနေတဲ့ မိန်းမတွေကို အထင်မသေးနဲ့.. ထမီအလံထူပစ်မယ်ဆိုတဲ့ စကား လက်တွေ့ဖြစ်လာပြီ….

ထမိန်ဆိုတာ ယုတ်ညံ့တယ်…

အမျိုးသမီးဆိုတာ ပျော့ညံ့တယ်ဆိုတဲ့အတွေးအခေါ်ဟောင်းတွေကို စစ်အာဏာရှင်စနစ်နဲ့အတူ ရိုက်ချိုးပစ်တဲ့နေ့…

ဒီနေ့…

အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာအမျိုးသမီးများနေ့

၈-၃-၂၀၂၁

Avoiding confrontation with military forces

In some cities like MyitkyinaNyaung Oo and Dawei, protesters picked unusual times such as five or six in the morning to avoid the riot police. Night-time prayers and protests have also been organized across the country. Some cities also tried “guerilla protests” in which protesters evaded crackdowns by showing up on different streets from where riot police were deployed.

Meanwhile, some held protests in rivers where protesters rode on boats, or in farms, while others climbed mountains to protest.

In some cities, a “peopleless protest” was done by leaving placards and other protest materials on the streets. In Mindat, a “completely silent protest” took place where nobody came out on the streets and markets were closed for the whole day.

Ethnic armed groups on the side of civilians

In some states, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) stepped in to protect the protesters. One of the EAOs, the Karen National Union (KNU), has announced that it will protect civilians from the military.

Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPL) came and protected the protesters in Loikaw, Kayah state, on March 13.

Civil defence force

Despite the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar military, protesters have not resorted to retaliation as the majority continued to uphold the non-violent principle of the movement.

However, with the alarming rise of the daily death toll of protesters, some have called for the formation of a preemptive strike force like a civil defence force to fight back against violent oppression. Since March 13, protesters in Yangon and Taunggyi have raised black flags as a sign to retaliate or strike back if violent crackdowns continue.

The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which was established by ousted elected members of parliament, announced on March 14 that protesters and civilians, in general, have the right to lawfully use other means of defence against the armed terrorists, i.e. the military.#

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Myanmar 2020 election: ‘A critical moment in the consolidation of democratic transition’

‘Structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process’

By Mong Palatino / Global Voices

Myanmar’s election on November 8 is described by United States-based group The Carter Center as “a critical moment in the consolidation of Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition.” The Carter Center is one of two international election observation missions accredited by Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC).

Myanmar was governed by a military dictatorship for several decades, then transitioned into civilian rule in 2010. The 2008 Constitution, however, ensured that the military would continue to exercise political influence, including on the Parliament. The opposition National League for Democracy defeated the military-backed party in the historic 2015 general election.

The Carter Center released its preliminary assessment of Myanmar’s election process on October 13. It noted the challenges in holding an election during a pandemic and recognized the efforts of the UEC in keeping the process on track.

On the other hand, it also identified the electoral system’s “structural shortcomings”:

(…) structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process, including quotas for unelected military appointees in all legislative bodies, restrictive eligibility criteria for the presidency, inequalities in constituency populations resulting in unequal representation.

It also mentioned that the “discriminatory legal regulations for citizenship effectively disenfranchise several ethnic minorities, particularly the Rohingya.” Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its ethnic groups.

The Carter Center’s observation mission, led by Sean Dunne, is composed of a core team of six experts and 24 long-term observers. Global Voices reached out to Dunne via email to learn more about their monitoring process in Myanmar.

Mong Palatino (MP): The Carter Center also monitored the 2015 election. How would you compare the electoral landscape during that year in relation to the present?

Sean Dunne (SD): The 2015 elections were really a watershed moment for Myanmar’s democratic transition with the opening of space for political competition and the peaceful transfer of power to the main opposition party. As is often the case with second round transitional elections, this election is likely to be more intensely contested among parties and candidates. This imposes more pressure on the election authorities to ensure a fair process in line with international principles for democratic elections.

MP: How do you plan to fulfill your mission given the pandemic situation?

SD: The Carter Center has taken a range of steps to maintain its observation efforts despite the pandemic. We were able to recruit and accredit Myanmar citizens to become our long-term election observers and have recruited foreign nationals locally and abroad to take on the short-term observer roles for the mission. We have made use of technology to assist in our virtual interviewing and engagement with stakeholders, conducting over 500 interviews so far with election and security officials, political parties and candidates, and civil society representatives.

MP: A recent news report mentioned the cancellation of elections in some townships because of security concerns. Can you comment on this?

SD: The constitution and election laws permit for the postponement of elections due to local insecurity and natural disasters. It was a recommendation of The Carter Center and other observation missions in 2015 that the criteria for these postponements be more transparent.

MP: What are some of the crucial electoral policies should the UEC undertake in the next few weeks to make the elections more free and fair?

SD: The process of elections must not only be fair but be seen to be fair. Transparency and frequent consultation with political parties, candidates and other stakeholders are crucial to the acceptance of the results. All aspects of the electoral process should be open to international and domestic observers to strengthen transparency.

MP: Do you have a message to members of the international community which are also monitoring Myanmar’s democratic transition?

SD: The second cycle of transitional elections are always vital to entrench democratic practices. These elections are an essential measure of progress. Post-election, ongoing democratic reforms need to be a priority, including adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. #

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Kodao Publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

These officials flouted lockdown rules in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Philippines

Arrest a community volunteer, then throw yourself a party

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Lockdown restrictions were enforced by many countries across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19, and Southeast Asia has hosted some of the harshest.

Most quarantine protocols require residents to stay at home, while mass gatherings are typically prohibited.

In Malaysia and the Philippines a particularly strict enforcement of these measures saw thousands of arrests and heavy penalties for violations from March onwards.

But a number of government officials were caught violating the very quarantine protocols they were supposed to oversee.

Global Voices looked into some of these cases, and their outcomes, which highlight how rules apply to ordinary citizens more than to powerful politicians.

We also considered a case in Myanmar that showed how religious discrimination can have a bearing on the application of the law.

Malaysia: ‘Disparity in sentencing’

Malaysia has arrested almost 30,000 people for violating its Movement Control Order (MCO). Harsh implementation was cited by authorities as necessary to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But the public noticed that several politicians flouted the guidelines. The Centre For Independent Journalism compiled documented many of these instances. In one case, Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali posted a now-deleted Facebook photograph of him and another elected representative sharing a meal with about 30 students. Deputy Rural Development Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad meanwhile enjoyed an impromptu birthday party. Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad claimed that the party was a surprise sprung on him by friends and said he was unable to send them away for reasons of courtesy.

In many cases politicians and their families who got charged for failing to practice social distancing measures were slapped with light fines. Ordinary citizens, in contrast got maximum penalty fines and even jail time.

This prompted the Malaysian Bar to issue a statement about the ‘disparity in sentencing’:

The Malaysian Bar is disturbed by accounts of excessive sentences and cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence, in relation to persons who have violated the MCO.

We acknowledge that the range of sentences handed down may well be within the ambit of the law, but the power of the Court to hand down sentences must be exercised judiciously in order to avoid any travesty of justice.

Philippines: ‘Mañanita’, not a birthday party’

The Philippines is cited by the U.N. Human Rights Office as another country that relied on a “highly militarized response” to deal with the pandemic. More than 120,000 people have been arrested for curfew and quarantine transgressions. Checkpoint security measures have led to numerous human rights violations.

But the government’s credibility in enforcing the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidelines suffered a tremendous blow after it was reported that Major General Debold Sinas, the director of the National Capital Region Police Office, benefited from a birthday bash organized by subordinates.

Sinas insisted that there was no birthday party but only a ‘Mañanita’ — a police tradition that features an early morning serenade for the chief. But the public backlash forced him to issue an apology.

Critics pointed out that Sinas and his team have enthusiastically arrested activists and community workers organizing relief activities during the lockdown. They blasted the general for holding festivities at a time when millions have lost jobs and income due to anti-pandemic measures.

Sinas was later charged for violating ECQ rules but has so far managed to retain his position. His case is still pending in the court.

A retired military officer, Ramon Farolan, advised Sinas to step down:

Your apology would take on greater meaning if you step down from your position. Accept that you made a poor judgment call, showing insensitivity to the plight of our less fortunate. Don’t wait for higher authorities to decide your case.

Myanmar: Religious event or pagoda renovation?

In Myanmar, Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and Naing Ngan Lin, chairman of the COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, are both accused of breaking the law by attending a Botataung Pagoda festival while the country is observing a ban on religious gatherings.

Photos uploaded on the chief minister’s Facebook page showed dozens of individuals congregating at a riverside site to observe a Buddhist rite.

Social media reactions focused on the clear breach of government guidelines, which include a prohibition on gatherings of four or more people.

Phyo Min Thein denied that the activity was a ceremony, insisting instead that it was a pagoda renovation and that the other people in the photographs were mere onlookers.

Many commented that while the government has been consistent in jailing Muslims and Christians for holding religious activities during lockdown restrictions, it has been less decisive in probing activities connected to Buddhism — the country’s most widely observed religion.

Kyaw Phyo Tha, news editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, criticized the chief minister’s actions:

Whatever the case, the chief minister’s actions were unacceptable. They have put the Union government in an awkward position, as its orders have been undermined by a senior official. Due to U Phyo Min Thein’s shortsightedness, Myanmar will have to pay the price internationally by being accused of religious discrimination.

Phyo Min Thein may yet pay for his lockdown scandal — a growing number of Yangon regional legislators are seeking to file an impeachment case against him for breaking the rules. #

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Kodao publishes Global Voices reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Facebook apologizes for translating Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name as ‘Mr. Shithole’

By Mong Palatino

Facebook issued an apology after a technical error translated Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name as ‘Mr. Shithole’.

The error was noticed when the official Facebook page of Myanmar’s state counsellor posted updates regarding the official visit of Xi in Myanmar on 17-18 January 2020. The post, which was written in Burmese, cited several important trade and other bilateral agreements signed by Xi and the Myanmar government.

Xi’s visit highlighted China’s increasing economic and political influence in Myanmar. Its investments are both welcomed and criticized because of their social impact.

Journalists were the first to highlight the wrong translation of Xi’s name. They also noted that this was only on Facebook because Google Translate yielded a correct translation.

It took more than 24 hours before the error was corrected. Facebook also offered its apology:

We have fixed an issue regarding Burmese (Myanmar) to English translations on Facebook and are working to identify the cause to ensure that it doesn’t happen again…This issue is not a reflection of the way our products should work and we sincerely apologise for the offence this has caused.

Poppy McPherson, the Myanmar bureau chief of Reuters, posted screenshots of the translation errors:

Facebook has temporarily disabled the translation of Burmese to English posts. As of this writing, the translation option has not been restored.

Aside from the error in translating Xi’s name, a Facebook bug also prevented Kachin users from posting updates in their native language. There was initial speculation that this was related to Xi’s visit in Myanmar but it was reported as a purely technical problem. Many Kachin residents are opposing a China-funded dam project in their region.

Facebook has been previously criticized for its slow response in addressing the spread of hate speech targeting ethnic minorities in Myanmar. It has since then adopted measures aimed at combating disinformation perpetrated by state-backed accounts. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)


Despite the release of detained Reuters reporters, free speech remains under threat in Myanmar

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Media groups and human rights advocates are celebrating the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who spent more than 500 days in detention for their role in investigating the massacre of some Rohingya residents in northern Myanmar. But despite their release, the state of free speech in the country is still undermined by the continued detention and persecution of some artists, journalists, and activists. Consider the following cases:

Defamation case against The Irrawaddy

A defamation complaint was filed by the military’s Yangon Region Command against The Irrawaddy’s Burmese-language editor U Ye Ni over the news website’s alleged unfair coverage of the armed clashes between government forces and the insurgent Arakan Army in Rakhine State. The Irrawaddy said it did nothing but report the escalating armed clashes in the region since the start of 2019. Here is U Ye Ni’s response to the case filed by the military:

I feel sorry about the military’s misunderstanding of us. Journalism dictates that we reveal the suffering of people in a conflict area. Our intention behind the coverage is to push those concerned to solve the problems by understanding the sufferings of the people.

The Irrawaddy is a content partner of Global Voices.

Jailed for satire

Meanwhile, five members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe were sent to Insein prison to await trial for their satirical performance mocking the army. Thangyat is performance art similar to slam poetry featuring folk verses with traditional musical notes and is combined with song, dance, and chants. The group was charged with violating article 505(a) of the penal code which criminalizes the circulation of statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause any military officer to disregard or fail in his duties.

Zeyar Lwin, one of the accused, said:

All of our cases are political issues so that they need to resolve them as political issues. And also, I’d like to say all of us need to join the work for amending the 2008 constitution being done in parliament. In my opinion all of these issues can be resolved if we can do the primary work of amending the constitution.

Zeyar Lwin is referring to the 2008 constitution which many analysts believe was designed to reinforce military rule even after the restoration of civilian leadership.

Sickly filmmaker in detention

The case of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi also reflects the restrictions imposed on critical artists. A complaint filed by a military officer against the filmmaker’s ‘defamatory’ Facebook posts led to his arrest. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is the founder of the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival and a known critic of the military’s involvement in politics. His supporters are calling for his release on humanitarian grounds, since he has had half of his liver removed due to cancer and suffers from heart and kidney problems. The Human Rights Film Network, a partnership of 40 human rights film festivals around the world, sent this letter to the government:

As a concerned international human rights community, we seek reassurance from the Myanmar government to ensure that Section66(d), which was meant to enhance progress of telecommunications, will not be used to silence the voice of Myanmarese civilians seeking to voice their opinions and take part in the democratic process in Myanmar.

The letter refers to the controversial Section 66(d) defamation law which has been used by authorities to charge critics, activists, and journalists.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s petition for bail was rejected by a local court. His next hearing is scheduled for May 9, 2019.

‘They should never have been jailed in the first place.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The Supreme Court upheld their conviction last April with finality but they were released from prison after they were granted a presidential pardon during the country’s traditional New Year.

Groups like the Southeast Asian Press Alliance welcomed the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo but they also highlighted the injustice suffered by the two reporters:

They should never have been jailed in the first place, because they committed no crime.

While we welcome this positive development, the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is proof that journalists are in constant risk of political reprisal for keeping power in check.

This article by Mong Palatino is from Global Voices, an international and multilingual news site, and is republished on Kodao Productions as part of a content-sharing agreement.

NUJP condemns jailing of Myanmar journalists

September 4, 2018

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemns the sentencing of our Myanmar colleagues Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of the Reuters news agency to seven years in jail under that country’s Official Secrets Act.

Myanmar has effectively outlawed freedom of the press and belied all its claims of democratization.

The only way for Myanmar to rectify this grievous injustice is to free our colleagues and pledge to respect and uphold freedom of the press.

We extend our sympathy to the families of the two and declare our support for colleagues in Myanmar.

At the same time, we note that the jailing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is not an isolated incident but part of the worsening trend of media repression in Southeast Asia as governments seek to control the free flow of information and the public discourse.

We call on journalists throughout the region to close ranks and vigorously oppose all efforts to muzzle us and prevent us from serving our peoples’ sacred right to know.

NUJP Directorate