UPDATE (Burma): Monks on the march, boycotting military regime across country


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-124-2007
ISSUES: Human rights defenders, Judicial system, Military, Rule of law, State of emergency & martial law,

Dear friends,

The recent dramatic and historic developments in Burma, with thousands of monks taking to the streets, have received a lot of international attention in recent days. Here the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) gives a short summary of some of the latest events and also add comments and information on some incidents and reports that have not obtained attention elsewhere. Please visit the new webpage above for updates and links to good news sites with the latest. Please see the end of this update for suggestions on what action that you can take.

As reported in a previous update (UP-119-2007), Buddhist monks in Pakokku, Magwe Division took government officials hostage in the morning on 6 September 2007, after the military fired warning shots to disperse protesters the day before (for more on the early days of the protests see UA-260-2007; AS-197-2007). It is not yet confirmed that one of three injured monks later died.

Subsequently, the hostages were released but the monks’ union in Mandalay demanded an apology from the authorities for what had happened, and gave two weeks in which to receive it or they would take action. As there was no apology, on September 17 the monks began marches, and on the next day began to issue declarations of boycott (AS-228-2007; AHRC-PL-037-2007).?

The following list of incidents is compiled from AHRC sources, media reports and other channels. Numbers and basic facts have been cross-checked but naturally there are discrepancies in the details of some incidents; for that reason some reports also have been omitted. There are also certain to have been gatherings and boycotts declared by monasteries in rural and more remote areas that have not been reported through any channels.

September 17
5:30am, Chauk, Magwe Division, central Burma: Monks at Chauk began the marches early on Monday morning, when they walked for about one and a half hours around town, reciting Buddhist verses. Around 30 monks had held a small demonstration the day before, and were photographed by security officers. After that initial event one monk was reportedly hit with stones thrown by an unidentified group of men, believed to be members of a government-organised gang.

6am, Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay Division, upper Burma: Over 500 monks organised by those residing at the Khemathiwun Monastery marched to the main pagoda in the town and recited verses of loving kindness (Metta Sutta).

September 18
3am, South Okkalapa, Rangoon: Around 30 monks assembled at Kyaikkasan Pagoda and marched around the township for about one and a half hours reciting verses.

5am, Chauk, Magwe Division: Around 200 monks again marched in Chauk, with many onlookers, starting at Pattamya ward and crossing the township government offices, market and other main parts of town.?

5:30am, Thingakyun, Rangoon: Hundreds of monks assembled at a religious hall to declare an official boycott of the military regime.

6am, Aunglan, Magwe Division: Around 100 monks marched around town and recited religious verses for loving kindness, while being followed by government authorities and organised thugs, who did not interfere in the march.?

9am, Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay Division: Around 250 monks from Seittaparlagu Monastery again marched through the town and recited verses while forces and others took photographs; around 500 onlookers walked with them.?

12pm, Mogok, Mandalay Division: Over 200 monks gathered at Aungchanthar Monastery for about one and a half hours to declare a formal boycott of the military regime there. They were led in their prayers by the abbot and other senior monks.

12pm, Rangoon: Hundreds of monks walked from Botahtaung township in the east of the city centre to the main Shwedagon Pagoda, but when they found that they were locked out they came back to pray and declare a boycott of the regime at the Sule Pagoda, in the roundabout at the city centre. Around 2pm hundreds of monks also came to Sule from Bahan township. After also being locked out of there they went back to the historic pagoda in Botahtaung and again found the gates closed; thus they prayed outside on the sidewalk, where they chanted verses of loving kindness. Some journalists were harassed and had cameras snatched by members of the government-organised Swan-arshin gangs [see AS-125-2007, The anatomy of thuggery (UPI Asia Online)]. The protest finished around 3pm.

Some video footage can be seen on the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) website, here:

A set of still photographs organised on video by DVB can also be seen here: http://dvb.cachefly.net/tv/all/monks.wmv

12pm, Mandalay: Around 100 monks from the Razamuni Monastery marched across town to the main pagoda chanting verses of loving kindness, with about 1000 onlookers and authorities watching and taking photographs.?

1pm, Pakkoku, Magwe Division: Around 1000 monks from three monasteries marched through the city centre declaring that they would boycott the military regime. The monks witnessed that they were being followed by security forces and urged the local residents not to follow them on the road, for their own safety. They went to perform rites at the famous Thihoshin Pagoda before assembling at the Bodhimandaing Monastery where they conducted the ceremony to boycott, and dispersed afterwards.

3:30pm, Sittwe, Arakan State, western Burma: Around 500 monks and thousands of onlookers were dispersed by riot police using teargas and shooting over their heads. They had been marching for about an hour, chanting and carrying placards calling for the government to apologise to the monkhood and also lower prices, when the police intervened as crowds of clapping supporters swelled to over 10,000. The incident was reported in the state-run media, which blamed it on “bogus monks” who had allegedly thrown rocks and sticks and hit government officials and monks that are under control of the regime, causing injuries to them and police officers; local persons contacted by outside news groups denied these allegations. This language by the state is the same as that used in previous years when monks had acted against the government and hundreds were disrobed and jailed (see more below). The teargas incident followed an afternoon of demonstrations by monks and civilians. Authorities reportedly arrested three monks and one novice, although the state media denied this.

4pm, Pegu, lower Burma: Over 1500 monks, some 400 of them from the Thathanamandai Monastery, walked to the historic Shwemawdaw Pagoda from different directions where they also declared a boycott of the regime. They originally planned to go to the Kyakhatwaing Pagoda but found that it had been locked to keep them out, so they changed direction. They were followed by thousands of people offering water and paying respects. They also stopped anyone from taking photographs, apparently to prevent security forces documenting all the participants. At least one police officer reportedly had his camera smashed.

9pm, Tharrawaddy, Pegu Division, lower Burma: According to one report, around 200 monks at the small town of Gyobingauk marched for one and a half hours after dark, reciting verses and being watched by local authorities.

September 19 
Early morning, Mandalay, upper Burma: Over 700 monks from Masoeyein Monastery in Mandalay marched to the main Mandalay pagoda, chanting verses of loving kindness and being received by onlookers, without any appearance of security forces.

8am, Yankin, Rangoon: Around 50 monks from the Moekyaung Monastery marched on the road through their area while chanting verses of loving kindness.

8am, Kale, Sagaing Division, upper Burma: Over 200 monks at the Mahavithuddha Monastery declared a boycott of the regime and chanted verses of loving kindness while marching in the town.

9am, Rangoon: Around 100 monks from Kyimyindaing and Ahlone met at the intersection of the main roads of the two townships and marched to the Thayetdaw Monastery where they declared their decision to boycott the military regime.

10am, Pyi, Pegu Division: Around 500 monks including senior clergy participated in a march that took them to the main Shwesandaw Pagoda, during which time they chanted verses of loving kindness and their photographs were taken by security forces.

12pm, Rangoon: Around 2000 monks from around Rangoon came together at the main Shwedagon Pagoda but the gates were locked to them so they instead marched to Sule Pagoda, and where followed by thousands of onlookers who applauded, cheered and gave bottles of water. Many people came to wait for them after the march of the day before, and at least 8000 were estimated to be lining the sidewalks, causing a traffic jam in the city centre.

Some video footage can be seen on DVB, here: http://dvb.cachefly.net/tv/all/monks19.wmv

1pm, Sittwe, Arakan State: At least 2000 monks (some estimate up to 5000) and over 10,000 ordinary persons came to the Arakan State Peace & Development Council office to demand an apology for the use of teargas and shooting the day before, and release of the monks taken into custody. Some 700 monks first assembled at the pagoda that had once been occupied by U Ottama, a famous monk who had struggled against British colonial rule, and then marched to the office, being joined by others as they went. Initially the monks had told the ordinary people not to follow with them, for their security, but later they were unable to restrain the public and were joined by thousands. They occupied the office and its compound for nearly five hours before leaving after negotiations. The arrested monks and novice were reportedly released that night.

5pm, Tharrawaddy, Pegu Division: Some 200 monks again marched around Gyobingauk until after dark, chanting verses of loving kindness.

Mandalay: Around 1500 monks from two monasteries walked to the famous Mahamuni Pagoda and were followed and cheered by around 5000 onlookers.

September 20
6am, South Dagon, greater Rangoon: Around 200 monks from a monastery under the patronage of Daw Kyaing Kyaing, the wife of the head of the military junta, Senior General Than Shwe, also joined the boycott. The monks, from the Nikey-ngayat Monastery, walked for about an hour along the main road to the Aungbhodi Pagoda in another part of the township, chanting verses for loving kindness along the way. They stayed at the pagoda for about two hours, where they declared the boycott, before going back to the monastery. There were many security personnel observing the march. The abbot of the monastery is closely connected to the military regime.

7am, Kunchankone, Rangoon: Around 60 monks followed by ordinary persons met at the Mahatiloka Pagoda and marched along the main road in the township before returning to their residences.

8:30am, Pegu: At least 50 monks boarded a train for Rangoon. The authorities stopped the train from proceeding at Toekyaungkale Station, and forced the three carriages with the monks to go back the way they had come. The monks got down and went the rest of the distance on foot and reportedly arrived in Bahan township.?

12pm, Kyimyindaing, Rangoon: Over 300 monks marched from Masoeyein Monastery to Shwedagon Pagoda, and were followed by well-wishers and persons giving bottled water along the way. The gates of the pagoda were again closed to the monks.

12pm, Monywa, Sagaing Division, upper Burma: At least 400 monks marched through the town from the famous Zawtika Monastery, Yankin Monastery and Ukkantawya Monastery, despite officials from the township and district councils coming and warning the monks not to go out. They chanted verses of loving kindness and went to the Sutaungpyi Pagoda and prayed before going back to their monasteries.

2pm, Bahan, Rangoon: Over 500 monks marched to Sule Pagoda, in the roundabout at the centre of the city. Along the way, ordinary citizens directed traffic and guided them through the intersections, rather than the normally ubiquitous traffic police. They arrived at Sule around 3pm and were joined by around another 500 monks. Security personnel took photographs but did not interfere. Thousands more people lined the route and joined hands to form human chains along the roadside and give free passage to the monks, even though it was raining heavily. A monk at the head of the procession carried an alms bowl upside down symbolically. The main roads in the city centre were clogged with people and traffic built up in all surrounding areas.

Elsewhere in Rangoon, up to 1000 monks from two monasteries in Yankin township were able to enter and pray on the Shwedagon Pagoda platform for the first time since the protests began, again walking only in their robes in heavy rain. According to an abbot who spoke to the Voice of America Burmese Service, the monks from his monastery of Ngwekyaryan and another, Pinsanikei, did three circuits around the South Okkalapa area before coming to the main pagoda in the city.

Short video footage of the march can be seen on the DVB site: http://dvb.cachefly.net/tv/all/monk20sept.wmv

The AHRC is also in the process of putting photographs to its website with details. Please check the Burma protests page for more.

Background comments
Monks first joined the protests against the fuel price hikes this year on August 28 when some hundreds of monks also marched in Sittwe, Arakan State (see UP-114-2007).

Burmese monks have historically held boycotts and taken action against unfavourable rulers, going back to ancient times and then the British colonial period, as well as into the present.

The last major group boycott action of this sort was in August-October of 1990, to mark the second anniversary of the massacres that ended the massive 1988 protests.

Throughout September of that year the boycott was steadily strengthened and the then military ruler was forced to meet with senior monks to demand that it be stopped. However, the monkhood refused to comply and again, as now, demanded apologies from the regime for violence against monks and for the release of all those in prison.

On 20 October 1990, the regime declared all monks’ organisations illegal except those that it had officially approved. On October 30 it introduced new disciplinary requirements and warned monks that if they violated them they would face the consequences. In November the army surrounded monasteries and cut off supplies. More than 350 monasteries were reportedly taken over by the army, 20 were permanently seized, and over 3000 monks and novices were arrested.

In the subsequent years the regime has tried to introduce many new measures to control and direct the monkhood, including by introducing special disciplinary committees on top of the existing structure of religious councils.

Four protest leaders allegedly tortured
According to one report, four of the protest leaders arrested in August have been allegedly tortured in central Insein Prison and transferred to the jail hospital, where they are being isolated from other prisoners. The four are Min Ko Naing, Mya Aye, Jimmy (Kyaw Min Yu) and Marky (Kyaw Kyaw Htwe). Jimmy was earlier rumoured to have been killed, but his death was not confirmed by the authorities (UP-120-2007).

More human rights defenders held
According to DVB, police arrested a member of the Human Rights Defenders & Promoters group, Ko Kyaw Soe, near his house in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, northeast Burma, at about 10am on September 17. His wife also was reportedly taken away. His current circumstances are not known.

In recent months a number of members of the same group have been arrested and charged with various offences; the leader of the group, U Myint Aye, was arrested as part of the first sweep against the August protest leaders, on August 24 near his house in Rangoon. Other cases that have been followed closely by the AHRC can be read here: UP-108-2007; UP-105-2007.

Meanwhile, a leader of the Tuesday prayer campaign group for political prisoners, Naw Ohn Hla, was reportedly detained for a short time on September 18 as she was going to the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Heightened security
Roads in and out of Rangoon and around the airport are reported to be under tight security. Barbed wire barricades have also been put up in some areas, including around the Town Hall, close to where big gatherings were held in the recent days, an historic site of protest and killings in earlier years when the army has cracked down on dissent. Army trucks have also been seen nearby key monasteries, and the gangs of government-organised and mobilised thugs, Swan-arshin, are on the streets in many areas, apparently awaiting instructions.??

According to some reports, Light Infantry Brigade 77 has been ordered to take over security for Rangoon and the commander is now operating out of a religious hall next to Shwedagon Pagoda. Some sources suggest that September 20 was the last day that the monks will be able to move uninterrupted and from September 21 they will begin suppression operations.

For the first time bloggers have played a role in reporting on such events in Burma. One, known as Moezack, disappeared from the internet after about one day of posting protest photos. Some others are still publishing.

Dying and sick government officials
At this time there are many rumours and stories circulating in Burma that will be interpreted as omens.

Among them, there is news from DVB that one of the industry ministers (there are two), U Aung Thaung, on the night of September 19 collapsed unconscious and had to be taken to hospital after hearing news about more protests by the monks. Earlier in the day he and the central region military commander, Major General Khin Zaw and other officials had gone to the top of Mandalay Hill to perform a superstitious ritual in which they scattered frangipani flowers (which symbolise death) and three times uttered “may the monks pass away”.

Meanwhile, there are also reports that the prime minister, General Soe Win, who has been sick in Singapore, has passed away. This is not confirmed. Another officer has held his position in an acting capacity during recent months. At the same time, his twin brother, Major General Tin Htun, was announced in state newspapers to have died from cancer on the morning of September 19. Maj-Gen. Tin Htun was the head of the army engineers.

UN Security Council hearing
The UN special advisor on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, spoke at the Security Council on the situation in the country. The special advisor and the UN have been almost entirely absent from international reaction to the events in Burma since August, and have been widely criticised for their inaction (see AS-206-2007; The right to provoke [UPI Asia Online]).

Please refer to previous appeals and updates for templates of letters that you can use to support the people’s struggle in Burma (UA-260-2007; UP-114-2007).

If you are in a representative democracy, please personally contact your local member of parliament, foreign minister or equivalent and press him or her on what is being done by the government of your country to increase multilateral pressure and draw attention to the situation there.

If you are living in a place where there is a consulate or embassy of Burma, please consider organising protest actions outside it to raise attention to what is happening in the country at present.

If you are a member of a Buddhist religious order, please ask your local community to consider joining the boycott against all persons connected with the military regime of Burma (see AHRC call for a global boycott: AHRC-PL-037-2007).

If you are a member of any other religious community, please arrange prayer meetings and other activities for the people of Burma who are struggling at this time against overwhelming odds.

Please be assured that whatever actions you take are having an effect, and become known to people in Burma through shortwave radio broadcasts and other news channels from abroad. As the society has been isolated for a long time, even small signs of support and interest from elsewhere in the world have a strong solidarity effect for people there: so do not underestimate the benefit of your actions!

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission