UPDATE (Burma): Monks hold government officials as hostages; more protests and arrests around the country


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-119-2007
ISSUES: Arbitrary arrest & detention, Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Poverty & adequate standard of living, Rule of law,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been receiving daily updates on the dramatic protests against mid-August fuel price increases in Burma. On September 6, the protests went to a new level when for the first time the army intervened directly and monks responded by holding officials as hostages. More protests and arrests are reported around the country. Meanwhile, the United Nations and various governments have called for the military government there to release all arrested protesters, but have so far failed to take any further action.

Here we give a short summary of recent events. Please check the news media websites listed in the new webpage at http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/burmaprotests/ for the most recent information.

Buddhist monks in Pakokku, Magwe Division (inland lower Burma) took 20 government officials hostage in the morning on 6 September 2007, after the military fired warning shots to disperse protesters the day before.

On September 5, about 500 Buddhist monks in Pakokku had protested against the fuel price hikes with banners, and reciting Buddhist scriptures. Soldiers in full uniform fired about 10 to 15 bullets before they dragged the monks away. According to some reports, three monks were tied to an electric pole and were beaten with rifle butts and bludgeons. This is the first time that the military has been directly used to suppress a protest since they began in August (see AHRC AS-197-2007). On other occasions, gangs of government-organised thugs and police and civilian officials in plain clothes have been used (see AS-201-2007), although there are reports that on other occasions, groups of soldiers had been situated nearby.

On September 6 a group of officials, headed by the secretary of the Magwe Division Peace and Development Council and head of the divisional Department of Religious Affairs went to Mahavithutarama monastery at around 10am to ask the monks not to demonstrate. Shortly after, some monks began throwing rocks at their cars. A standoff continued, and the group was held hostage by the young monks for about another six hours before being released. The officials were let out at the back door, as there was a huge crowd in front of the monastery. The four cars were destroyed.

According to further reports, groups of monks went to at least one house and one shop belonging to members of the Swanar-shin government-organised and mobilised gang, and damaged property as well as writing slogans on the outside.

The incident has been reported and condemned in the state media; however, only the destruction of the cars is mentioned, not the hostage-taking and other events. It is the third time that the protests have been referred to directly.

This was the second major action by monks: on August 28 some hundreds of monks also marched in Sittwe, Arakan State (see UP-114-2007).

Four arrested after 100 protest march in Bogalay
On September 5, about 1000 people protested and gave speeches in Bogalay, Irrawaddy Division (delta region) against the increase in fuel prices. Four protesters were arrested, including U Aung Khin Boe, U Khin Maung Chit, Daw Khin Lay and Daw Mi Mi Jein, all from the National League for Democracy. They have been held in unknown location by the police, who have reportedly claimed they would be released later.

Over 1000 march and demand the release of two protestors in Taunggok
At least another 1000 people staged a peaceful protest in Taunggok, Arakan State (western coastline), on September 4. The protest was started by 15 members of the NLD. They demanded the release of two protestors, Ko Sithu and Ko Than Lwin, who were arrested on August 31 after waving placards criticizing the government. The two men were released the next day.

Seven arrested after Laputta protests
Seven persons were arrested after about another 1000 people protested in Laputta, Irrawaddy Division on September 3. Those arrested include three protest leaders and four activists, namely Ko Aung Moe Win, Ko Kyi Than and Ko Htay, Ko Pauksa,  Ko Pho Cho, Ko Muang Kyaw and Ko Hla Soe. They are believed to be separately detained at the Bayin Naung government guest house.

Solo protester in Buthitaung
At 10 am on September 2, 30-year-old protester Ko Ye Thein held up placard demanding a reduction of commodity prices at the pier in Buthitaung, Arakan State. About 300 onlookers applauded him. The solo protest was stopped by about 20 police, who ripped up and trampled the placard, and he was taken away. Security has been tightened after the protest.

Solo protester released in Bassein
U Aye Win, a solo protester arrested after a demonstration in Bassein, Irrawaddy Division on August 24, was released on August 30. U Aye Win said he had been questioned at the township peace and development council office by local authorities and special branch police (see further, The right to provoke, at UPI Asia Online).

Protesters march in Kyaukpadaung
About 25 protesters marched on the morning of August 30 and demanded the release of political prisoners and lowering of prices in Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay Division (upper Burma). Local officials arrived on motorcycle and followed the protesters. Members of the quasi-government Union Solidarity and Development Association and government-organised gangs tried to stop the demonstration but they were jeered by bystanders.

Government orders civil servants to beware
The AHRC has received information that an emergency meeting headed by Senior General Than Shwe, the head of state, was held in the new capital on the morning of September 3. After the meeting, a notification was sent to all military and departmental heads throughout the country instructing them to call meetings and verbally warn their subordinates not to join in any of the anti-government activities. (In 1988, members of the public service and other personnel also joined in the nationwide protests.)

Military hunts for activists
Since August 30, there have been reports that the military raids homes of activists and their friends; local officials and hotels have been also instructed to look out for the activists and given their names and pictures. Many activists have left their home and gone hiding, including Ma Su Su Nwe, who was the first person to succeed in a forced labour case against the government, for which she was imprisoned (see http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/susunwe/). The AHRC has received a copy of a list of ten persons who are being sought by the police special branch, together with their addresses and the assigned officer.

Pamphlet war in Rangoon
Since protestors began distributing leaflets and putting up posters in Rangoon and some other areas, the authorities have responded by also disturbing leaflets against the current demonstrations. The leaflets have been distributed at night by car around downtown Rangoon, in Kyauktada Township and on Anawratha Road, and accuse the protesters of destabilizing the country. Flyers have also been dropped in front of embassies in Rangoon, warning them not to provide shelter to activists.

Arrested activists go on hunger strikes to demand medical treatment
At least 41 detained activists reportedly went on hunger strikes on 30 August to demand medical treatment for another detainee, Ye Thein Naing, who was beaten during the arrest on August 28 and had his leg broken when he was pushed off a truck. The police reportedly have not given him any treatment.

Official identified as involved in brutal dispersal
The secretary of the Bahan Township Peace and Development Council, U Htun Hla Sein, has been identified as one of the perpetrators who led the brutal dispersal of the demonstration at Hle Dan junction in Kamayut Township on August 28 (The video can be viewed at: http://dvb.cachefly.net/tv/all/su.wmv: Htun Hla Sein is the short-haired big man in glasses with a grey-green shirt and a dark brown-red sarong).

Response from the international community
Almost two weeks after the outbreak of protests, the special envoy of the UN Secretary General on Burma, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, finally spoke about the situation, saying that he still plans to visit the country (according to a previous agenda) to discuss the situation there. He has so far contributed nothing in response to these recent developments.

Various governments have voiced their concerns about the protests and urged the military government to release the political detainees and protesters, but so far this has not led to further intervention of the sort needed at this time. Therefore, we urge all concerned persons to write to and contact key UN officials and representatives of other governments to push for action at this critical juncture in the modern history of Burma, as its people are again demonstrating the depth of courage and commitment they have to bringing an end to military dictatorship there. Please refer to the sample letter in the original appeal for further: UA-260-2007

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)