UPDATE (Burma): Protests continue despite heavy security; more people and monks taken away; townsfolk defend monasteries with slingshots


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-128-2007
ISSUES: Arbitrary arrest & detention, Corruption, Enforced disappearances and abductions, Extrajudicial killings, Freedom of assembly, Freedom of expression, Torture,

Dear friends,

As the dramatic events in Burma of the last few days are being reported throughout the entire world, in this latest update the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), gives additional information not being widely covered in the mainstream media, as follows:
– Protests have continued in Rangoon, Mandalay and other towns 
– Killings outside of Rangoon city centre
– Hundreds of persons and monks taken away; reports of assault and torture
– Looting and profaning of sacred places; townspeople are defending monasteries from troops
– Private news journals have stopped publishing rather than print government propaganda
– Price rises and risk of widespread hunger 
– “Pro-government” rallies being staged 
– The family of the armed forces’ head has fled the country

For all statements, press releases, updates and media, visit the Burma Protests 2007webpage of the AHRC. 

On September 28 and 29 the protests continued unabated for the 12th and 13th days, despite many attempts by the military regime to stop them. However, protests in Rangoon and Mandalay are becoming increasingly difficult as there are now tens of thousands of troops in both cities. Here are some of the reports of protests on September 29 only:

At midday, hundreds of protestors were again out on and around Anawrahta Road near the Sule Pagoda, shouting slogans at the troops and riot police, such as “General [Aung San] did not give you training in order to kill the people!” “We don’t want military government” and “May the people who killed/beat monks be struck down by lighting!”  There were also protests led by students waving Fighting Peacock flags (the symbol of the students’ movement) in Lanmadaw Township. 

Video of protests in Rangoon on September 28 can be viewed on the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) website: http://dvb.cachefly.net/tv/all/28sep.wmv (and from the day before).

Mandalay Division, upper Burma
At Kyaukpadaung, up to 1000 monks and over 10,000 people continued marches. They were watched by troops, police and government thugs but there was no violence.

Arakan State, western Burma
In Sittwe, about 50 monks and 300 civilians marched for around half an hour from 2pm and were threatened by armed troops. There, the authorities have ordered monks to return to their home villages in an attempt to reduce the number of monks in the city and defuse the protests. Similar orders have been given to the abbots of monasteries in other parts of the country.

Around 15 miles outside of Taunggut, monks and villagers also reportedly gathered together to protest in a rural area.

Magwe Division
In Pakokku, west of Mandalay, around 200 monks led 2000 civilians in a peaceful two-hour march to Thihoshin Pagoda starting at 2:30pm that was not broken up by the authorities. During the march they also chanted slogans such as those in Rangoon. They prayed at the pagoda before dispersing.

Pakokku is where government forces attacked monks on September 5, provoking the monks to “overturn the alms bowl” in religious boycott of the regime (UP-119-2007).

To the south of Pakokku, at Yenanchaung, around 200 monks followed by a few thousand supporters marched around the town from around midday on September 29, starting from the Yatanaminhpu Pagoda. They marched until 3pm also chanting slogans, according to Yoma 3 news (Thailand). Many of the monks were from the Shwedaung Pali University, which is under the control of one of the 47 top government-approved monks of the Maha Sangha Nayaka Council, U Tezaniya.

On September 28 there were protests reported in Rangoon, Mandalay, Pakokku and Mogok.

The killings in Rangoon city centre were widely reported and some caught on film. Rather than deny that they had occurred, the military regime admitted that nine had died due to “terrorists” creating disturbances. Surprisingly, the international media for a while went along with that number, despite knowing that it came from the propaganda of compulsive liars.

It is confirmed through a number of separate sources that at least one person died outside High School No. 3 in Tamwe Township on September 27 when troops pursuing protestors from Pansodan opened fire there and drove a truck into the crowd before assaulting people with truncheons. The dead person was a student at the school, who was killed after his skull was broken open. According to some reports, five or more teenage students were killed; however, the bodies were immediately removed by security forces. Others, as well as their mothers and protestors, were injured. Many were taken away in trucks.

According to information received by the AHRC, on the evening of September 27, there were eight corpses on the road after shooting at a crowd in South Okkalapa Township, between the Punnami and Post Office intersections. Some were known to local residents, who took them back to houses in the neighbourhood. But after a short time, security forces entered the area, searched and located the bodies and took them away.

There are reports that up to 200 corpses and persons who were seriously injured but not yet dead were burned at Ye Wei crematorium outside of Rangoon, but there has been no confirmation of this by eyewitnesses.

It was earlier estimated that at least five monks and one civilian died on the first day of the crackdown.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is reportedly attempting to get details of all persons killed; however, as it has been refused access to prisons and other detention centres it cannot check on detainees.

At least 700 monks and 500 civilians are estimated to have been captured and taken to unknown locations in the last week. This is in addition to at least 150 other persons arrested after the protests began in August. The AHRC has already said that these persons must all be treated as disappeared, not arrested, until their whereabouts and conditions are confirmed (AS-237-2007). Many women and nuns are among those who have been taken.

According to The Irrawaddy news (Thailand), a senior monk that went to Insein Prison saw that arrested monks had been disrobed and that some had already been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, presumably by a special tribunal that is routinely convened inside the prison to handle such cases. Other sources indicate that some of the monks have various wounds that have not been treated.

At last report, around 200 monks from Ngwekyaryan and Meggin Monasteries in Rangoon had been held at the Government Technological Institute in Insein Township. There may be around 300 monks there at present who have also been forcibly disrobed after being captured on September 26 and 27. A relative of someone who had been inside the institute told DVB that they had seen a soldier whipping a disrobed monk with his belt. On September 27, one disrobed monk was brought to the Rangoon General Hospital for treatment of injuries to his feet.

According to DVB, the Emergency Entrance at the Rangoon General Hospital is being tightly guarded by troops that are checking for who is being brought in and for what injuries. For persons and monks being kept in detention to get treatment at the hospital, the medical staff first have to submit a request to the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Mya Oo.

According to Mizzima news (India), monasteries in Bamaw, Irrawaddy Division, were raided on the night of September 25-26 and 108 monks were taken away and forcibly disrobed. The monks began reciting protective verses while in prison and were separated. Some 30 of them started a hunger strike. On September 27 they were sent from the prison to army lockups at Mnahsi and Momauk.

According to the Irrawaddy, around 7:30pm on September 27 soldiers raided the Pauk-myaing Monastery in Chanmyathazi Township, Mandalay and arrested most of 50 monks who were praying at the time; a few managed to escape.

These are a handful of the total number of incidents. Reports of large-scale capturing of monks all over the country are continuing.

National League for Democracy (NLD) members U Aye Ko and Daw Khin Whaing were arrested by police and council officials in Pegu, northeast of Rangoon, at 9:30pm on September 27. They were reportedly sent to the prison in Pyi.

In Mandalay, NLD organiser Daw Win Mya Mya was taken from her house by around ten police and ward officials at midnight on the night of September 28-29. Earlier, the NLD secretary in Meikhtilar, Daw Myint Myint Aye and NLD member there, Ko Tin Ko, were taken on the night of September 25 and held at the Mandalay Prison.

In Taunggut, Arakan State police and soldiers entered the houses of NLD members Ko Htun Kyi and Ko Than Hpe and took them away on the night of September 28.

In Bamaw, the NLD elected member of parliament, poet Bamaw Nyo Nyu, and six other persons were arrested on September 25, Mizzima has reported. Their whereabouts and conditions are not known.

At least seven elected members of parliament for the NLD were also taken along with monks in Myohnyin, Kachin State, on September 26. DVB identified them as: U Kyaw Maung, U Hpe Sein, U Tin Aye, Ko Khin Maung Hun, U Ba Maung, U Htun Tin and U Chit Htoo. The group that captured them was reportedly led by a local soft drink factory owner, U Maung Maung.

There are reports of more abductions of NLD members coming every hour. In Mandalay, virtually the entire NLD leadership has been taken away. At least 85 party members around the country have been removed from their houses in the last few days.

According to DVB, in the southern part of New Dagon, a satellite town of Rangoon, ten people did not come home after September 28 (see AS-237-2007) — it is likely that in every part of the city there are similar disappearances.

Ma Hpyu Hpyu, an HIV/AIDS health worker and her staff members have been arrested, leading to appeals for their release by the persons whom they treat. One of the monasteries raided on September 26 also was serving as an AIDS hospice. 

We earlier reported that comedian Zarganar, who led actors and writers to join the protests, was arrested (UP-126-2007). There have been reports that Htun Eindra Bo, a prominent actress who has entered nunneries on a number of occasions and is known for her strong social concerns was also arrested.

Among those who have avoided arrest is Ma Su Su Nwe, a leader of the first protests in August (see video at the DVB site), a human rights award laureate who was jailed for winning the first forced labour case in Burma (http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/susunwe/). Su Su Nwe was interviewed on DVB on September 29, observing that the troops and riot police attacking the protestors in Rangoon had “no regard for human life”.

Troops raided Ngwekyaryan Monastery in Rangoon on the night of September 26 and after fighting their way in ransacked and looted the building in the same manner in which they have done to villages in civil war areas for years. Resident monks that were not taken away complained that money, electrical equipment and Buddha statues were carried off. A photograph has been circulated showing that the head of a Buddha that had been embedded with gemstones was smashed off and taken also.

Video of the monastery after the raid can be seen on the DVB website: http://dvb.cachefly.net/tv/all/27sep.wmv

However, the monastery was quickly repaired on September 29, apparently by the Ministry of Religious Affairs with the intention to have it appear as if nothing happened there before UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Rangoon on the evening of that day. There are also some reports that it was housed with government personnel or thugs posing as monks.

There have been many reports of troops walking across images of the Buddha and the Buddhist flag, dropped in the streets by fleeing monks at the start of the crackdown. Troops have also entered monasteries and pagodas in their boots.

Ironically, this behaviour closely resembles the actions of British colonial troops, which used pagodas, including the Shwedagon Pagoda, as military encampments, and also refused to remove their footware on religious grounds, as required by custom. It was this behaviour that in part led many monks at that time to join and lead the anti-colonial movement around the country.

On the other hand, there were some reports of troops in Mandalay and Rangoon refusing to obey orders and fire upon or manhandle monks. Among the troops that raided the monasteries on the night of September 26, eyewitnesses said that some soldiers that failed to treat the monks harshly were themselves hit and shouted at by their superiors.

Following reports of the raids on monasteries, townspeople in various places have organised themselves to defend their monasteries. People in some areas have organised early warning systems with look-outs posted and everybody participating in yelling and banging pots and pans when soldiers, police and others approach, whether night or day. They have also armed themselves with sticks, knives, slingshots and jingalee–nails or sharpened bicycle spokes fired from catapaults–with which to fight government personnel trying to enter local temples.

According to Yoma 3, at 10:15pm on September 27 as a unit approached a monastery in Dawbone Township, Rangoon they were repelled by around 50 persons breaking the curfew to come out on to Thaddaryone Road in Ward 2. The troops fired weapons before leaving; it was not known whether or not anyone was hit. At 12pm on the same night, a unit of soldiers led by Colonel Tin Htun, Rangoon Army Area 2 commander, was repelled when it tried to enter the Minnandar Monastery in Pyidaw-aye Ward. DVB said that it tried to approach the monastery both from the road and from a neighbouring creek. The troops were active in the township throughout the whole night and it was not known if they had captured any monks there, a resident said.

On the night of September 28, troops approaching a monastery nearby the Meh-lamu Pagoda in North Okkalapa Township, northern Rangoon, were intercepted by armed residents, causing them to retreat. Meanwhile, in Thaketa Township, in the east of Rangoon, troops were surrounded by residents at the Thathana-alinyaung and Thathana-wuntha monasteries. They fired shots, hitting a monk.

In Mandalay, residents also put up defences of the Masoyein, Myataung, Weitthudayon, Phayagyi and Dhammikarama monasteries.

According to reports from a number of sources, weekly news journals were ordered by the Ministry of Information to carry propaganda articles condemning the protests. Although the journals are required to carry propaganda pieces in every edition, at this time many of them, including the popular Eleven Media Group and Pyi Myanmar Group, have shut down on various pretexts, such as that conditions in Rangoon are not safe for their staff.

Food and basic commodities prices are going up quickly and stocks in some towns are reduced, due both to the curfew, which has been imposed for 60 days, and the August 15 fuel price increase which started the protests (UA-260-2007). In and around Rangoon, roads have been closed or tightly regulated, making it difficult for food and other supplies to be moved in.

The AHRC on September 29 warned that the regime may try to take large amounts of its illegally-gotten capital out of the country and called on the international financial community to be aware of this possibility (AHRC-PL-040-2007).

On September 28 the World Food Programme, which operates in a number of areas and feeds around half a million people, said that the authorities had increasingly restricted its work since the start of the protests. It is now unable to move food from Mandalay Division to Shan State, in the northeast, and other neighbouring areas. Also in Arakan State on the western seaboard it has faced problems.

Corresponding with these reports, AHRC sources indicate that roads and public transport services in Mandalay Division are being closely monitored and movement restricted.

At Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State on the border with China, the quasi-government Union Solidarity and Development Association organised a rally on September 29 against the protests at the order of Northern Command commander, Major General Ohn Myint. Two people per house were required to attend, as well as teachers and high school students.

More rallies were held in Kyaingtone and Tachilek, Shan State, on the border of Thailand on September 30. According to residents talking to DVB by phone, they were ordered to send one person from each house.

The USDA is to organise more rallies in coming days in outlying areas where there has been limited unrest.

According to information from various sources, the family of Senior General Than Shwe, the head of state, have all fled the country. See further: AHRC-PL-040-2007.

There have been many reports in the mainstream media on the importance of a small number of bloggers in Burma who have been getting news and photos out of the country. Most are in Burmese; here are a couple of first hand accounts in English: http://www.xanga.com/dawn_1o9, http://dathana.blogspot.com/.

See photos of the protests at Saffron Revolution, as well as at the AHRC Burma protests page: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/burmaprotests/

As internet service providers were raided on September 28, there has not been much new content in the last few days. There are also many concerns among bloggers that they will be located and arrested. Some have deleted their blogs or posts.

On the same day as those raids, soldiers beating persons with cameras in the city reportedly yelled remarks such as, “Is it you sending those pictures?” suggesting that they are aware of the coverage that events in Burma have received abroad.

Please refer back to our previous appeal for actions that you can take, and watch local media for details of protests and other actions that you can join which are being organised by groups in your area: in most cities throughout Asia, Europe and North America there are activities at this time.

Please also sign these online petitions supporting the protestors:

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission