UPDATE (Burma): Thousands of monks and protestors in Rangoon defy threats from regime


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-125-2007
ISSUES: Arbitrary arrest & detention, Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Poverty & adequate standard of living, Rule of law, Torture,

Dear friends,

Threats from the military regime in Burma have failed to get thousands of protestors of the streets again today, 25 September 2007. Here the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) gives the latest information and some on events of recent days. Please do everything you can to support the courageous struggle of Burma’s people against their brutal government: there are only two ways forward for them from here — real political and social change, or renewed heavy repression, torture, imprisonment and killing. At this critical moment, please join their struggle.


Despite heavy threats of a crackdown by the military regime (AS-233-2007), tens of thousands have again come out in protest today. In an interview with Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) radio, prominent actor and social activist Kyaw Thu said that they would not back down or be intimidated by the regime. Today he and comedian Zarganar (who has been jailed previously) led over 20 famous actors, artists and writers to give alms to the monks at the Shwedagon Pagoda. They said that they have also prepared for doctors to be quickly on site in the event of violence.

According to DVB, over 10,000 monks left from Shwedagon at 1pm and marched through Bahan Township together with members of the public (see latest citizens’ photos at Saffron Revolution). A witness said that it was the largest gathering at Shwedagon in the eight days since the protests began. Some protestors waved red Fighting Peacock flags of the student groups that led the protests in 1988. Others carried banners calling for the release of political prisoners, national reconciliation, and saying that “this is a non-violent people’s action”. The monks again recited the Metta Sutta (loving kindness discourse). The protest march ended about 5pm.

Meanwhile, in Taunggok, Arakan State (western Burma), over 40,000 are reported to have come out to protest, and also in Monywa, Sagaing Division over 200 monks led some 10,000 citizens in marches there. Details on other protests around the country are still reaching the AHRC.

Detainees on hunger strike
According to a report from the Thailand-based Political Defiance Committee (PDC), over 40 of the more than 100 persons abducted and detained in the first days of the protests are being held at the camp of Riot Police Battalion No. 7 at Thanlyin, a few miles from Rangoon. (Regarding earlier detentions see: UP-114-2007; AS-201-2007). Since September 20 some have reportedly gone on hunger strike over the poor conditions under which they are being held.

On September 24, about 20,000 monks in Rangoon headed for the two holy sites in the city, Shwedagon Pagoda and Sule Pagoda. The monks marched in five columns, scratching more than a kilometer. They were joined by thousands of civilians who locked their arms to protect the monks, cheering and chanting for them. The crowd occupied five blocks and is estimated at around 100,000.

Fifty members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) also joined the march, brandishing their party flag. Celebrities including comedian Zarganar and poet Aung Way were in the crowd too.

Doctors and nurses were reportedly sent to Shwedagon Pagoda fearing the bloodshed.

Several high schools were closed in Rangoon; some government offices and private business were reportedly closed too, fearing possible violence.

On September 24 protest took place in 25 towns in the country. Hundreds of thousands of monks and members of the public marched in Pegu, Mandalay, Sagaing and Magwe, as well as in towns in Mon, Arakan and Kachin states and Kawthaung in Tenasserim Division.

On September 21, about 200 monks in Rangoon gathered at 10:30am in Maelahmuh Pagoda, North Okklapah Township, and started marching. Despite the heavy rain and flooding, they were joined by hundreds of onlookers and monks from other townships.

Monks from Tamwe township also marched to the town hall and back. According to eyewitnesses, there were at least 1500 monks and thousands of followers.

On the same day, the All Burma Monks Alliance issued a statement to entire clergy and Burmese people, addressing the military junta as “common enemy” of the whole people and urging the speedy formation of People’s Alliance led by the clergy to “struggle peacefully against the evil military dictatorship until its complete downfall.”

Over 1000 monks demonstrated in Pakhokku, Magwe division on the same day. Monks in Shwebo, Sagaing division, Mogoke, Daik-Oo town, Pegu division and Monywa also staged protests.

On September 22, 2000 monks in Rangoon marched towards Hledan along Pyi Road and approached the home of the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on University Avenue. She came to the gate and paid respect to the protesting monks while the crowd shouted “Long Life Aung San Suu Kyi”. This was her first public appearance since May 2003.

In Mandalay, an estimated 10,000 monks marched through the city, the procession occupied three blocks of the street. Monks also held protests in division capital Sagain and Monywa of Sagain division, Yenanchaung, Magwe division

On September 23, 400 monks and other demonstrators in Rangoon tried to approach the residence of Aung San Suu Kyi again, but they were barred by security forces. Reports said the security around her residence was also increased, with about 20 government-organized thugs and a dozen riot police posted on the nearby street.

On the same day, about 20,000 monks, nuns and demonstrators marched from Shwedagon Pagoda, passing the US Embassy to Sule Pagoda in the city centre. Bystanders joined hands in a human chain to protect the monks. They shouted support for Aung San Suu Kyi during the march, and demanded her release and the release of all political prisoners, an end to the economic hardship and an apology for the ill-treating of the monks (UP-119-2007).

Monks in Myikyina, Kachin state first joined the protest, and the demonstration in Mandalay, Magwe, Minbu and Monywa continued.

This is only a partial list of the numbers of events that have been documented and reported through so many sources, and there are likely to be many other events going on that have not been reported at all. The important thing to understand is that this is a nationwide protest movement and that a full uprising against the military regime is now fully underway. For further details please look at earlier and other reports on the AHRC webpage: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/burmaprotests/

Sources close to the War Office revealed that the junta leader Senior General Than Shwe again gave instructions to allow violent crackdown on the protests. There are also reports that 200-300 troops under Division No 77 which is responsible for the security of Rangoon were ordered to disguise as monks, and they would create disputes among the monks to justify the military dispersal. Some person

Than Shwe has also ordered cabinet minister Major General Htay Oo and Rangoon commander to cut the access to food, finance, information and civilians from the monks.

The government also tightened media control. According to a statement issued by Reporters without Borders and the Burma Media Association on September 20, there are at least 24 serious violations on the freedom to report since the protests broke out last month. The government has censored independent reports on the protests, and ordered private media to give reports in favour of the government. The government requested the state media to portray the protesters as agitators creating violence, and accused the foreign media as creating unrest. The comment is also echoed by the statements of the International Federation of Journalist and Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) on September 21, which complained about the government censorship on media covering the protests.

The US is going to impose new sanctions to Burma, including a visa ban to key members of the military regime and targeting the assets tied to them. Details will be announced later by President George W Bush in the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Other countries and organizations have also voiced their concerns in the situation in Burma. The UK ambassador to Burma Mark Canning expressed his concerns in the possible counter action from the government, and said Burma is now in uncharted territory.

The Dalai Lama also extended his support and solidarity with the peaceful demonstrations and prayed for the success of the movement and early release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Different religious organizations, including South African Council of Churches and Buddhist Peace Fellowship in the US, voiced their support to the democratic movement in Burma.

The protest in Burma has entered a critical phrase. While the Burmese monks and civilians bravely march on the street to show their discontent to the regime, your support is crucial to their struggle. Please act now to show your solidarity and support with the Burmese people, and press the international community to act.

You may 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.

People in Burma have been living under the military regime for two decades and are long forgotten by the world. They have taken the first steps in fighting for their freedom, your action is a great support to them. Please act now!

Thank you.

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