Detained freelance photographer Aung Nay Myo from Monywa in Sagaing Division was released on Monday, after three days of questioning.
“I was released after questioning by the local authorities, with no conditions. There were no warnings [issued] and no assurances I had to give,” said Aung Nay Myo, who had only just arrived home.
According to the photographer, the authorities questioned him over online materials shared on his personal Facebook account.
“I don’t want to give detailed comments on the matter since I don’t want to stir up problems,” Aung Nay Myo told The Irrawaddy. “I just want to say thank you to those who supported me [and called] for my release.”
Aung Nay Myo was detained on Friday for posting a satirical photo on his Facebook page that mocked officials.
The image was a photoshopped version of an advertisement for an action movie called “Kun Lon 40 days,” depicting a battle in Kun Lon near Laukkai in northern Shan State between forces from the Communist Party of Burma and the Burma Army from November 1971.
The image featured the faces of notable officials, including Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann, photoshopped onto the bodies of men in military gear. The film’s title had been changed to read “Condom 40 Days.”
A complaint letter sent by a Special Branch officer to the Monywa Police Station on Friday accused Aung Nay Myo of “harming, deterring and disturbing” the functions of government and requested that action be taken against him under the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act.
Before Aung Nay Myo’s release, on Sunday, journalists from the upper Burma region issued an open letter sent to President Thein Sein and also to parliament, the ministry of information and some foreign embassies, condemning the arrest as “threatening freedom of speech” and calling for the immediate release of the photographer.
The letter called Aung Nay Myo’s detention an injustice and said it would frighten other social network users.
RANGOON — Police in Letpadan, Pegu Division, prevented the main column of students protesting the National Educational Law from restarting their march to Rangoon this morning, blockading them inside a monastery.
From 8.30 am, about 200 police with two fire engines, six security police trucks, two light trucks, and a conventional police car blocked the gate of Aung Myay Baik Mann Monastery, preventing the students from marching on to Thonse.
“We thought they came to block our march,” said Ye Yint Kyaw, communications officer with the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) which is helping coordinate the protests. “Some responsible persons said they had come because the Pegu border affairs minister wanted to hold discussions with student leaders.”
The police trucks moved away from the monastery’s gate at around 10 am after students said they could not negotiate if they were being impeded.
Five student representatives held discussions with Pegu Division’s Security and Border Affairs Minister Col Thet Htun on Monday afternoon and the day’s march was postponed.
Ye Yint Kyaw said authorities had also contacted Rangoon Division’s border affairs and security minister, as they were concerned over a negative public response to the protesters, including from Buddhist monks.
“They were afraid there might be conflict with those people that don’t want us to march,” he said.
Nanda Sit Aung, a member of the Action Committee for Democratic Education who attended the meeting with the border affairs minister, said that authorities on Sunday had originally agreed to allow the march to continue to Thayarwaddy and to two other destinations further on.
“This morning police arrived unexpectedly. They didn’t want us to continue our march,” he said. “They wanted us to continue staying at Aung Myay Baik Mann Monastery until March 5. We told them we were going to discuss it first.”
Nanda Sit Aung said that during the meeting on Monday, Col Thet Htun read out a statement released by the Home Affairs Ministry on Saturday, warning students to halt their protests as the education law was now scheduled to be discussed in the parliament.
The statement read in part: “If [students] again proceed to march towards Rangoon, it would not be an attempt to amend the National Education Law but would aim to shatter state stability and peace. So please stop protests. If protests continue, action will be taken under existing laws [safeguarding] state security, rule of law and regional peace.”
Following the meeting between student representatives and Col Thet Htun, the students held their own deliberations. On Monday evening, they released eight demands, including that they be allowed to continue their march to Thayarwaddy on Tuesday. From there, the students said they would continue to Yangon by car, where they will gather to hold a final protest before disbanding and returning home, according to Ye Yint Kyaw.
The students were concerned that prolonging the march may lead to the cancellation of ongoing high school exams, Ye Yint Kyaw said.
The students gave Pegu Division authorities a deadline of 7 am Tuesday to respond and said they would continue their march to Thayarwaddy regardless if no reply was received.
There are around 150 students with the main student column in Letpadan, as well as about 70 other supporters. The main road into Letpadan has been blocked—from the north and south—and entrances to the monastery remain guarded.
The core group of student protesters began their 400-mile march from Mandalay to Rangoon against the controversial National Education Law on Jan. 20. They have ostensibly won some concessions from government, including having an amended bill submitted to parliament for consideration.
In Burma, one thing people from all walks of life have in common is a desire for education reform. We saw a glimmer of hope after representatives from the government, parliament, the National Network for Education Reform and students held preliminary discussions. But going forward, will our hopes become a reality?
Many people have expressed differing views about the 11 proposed amendments to the National Education Law currently under discussion. Some misinterpretations of the bill have also surfaced, leading to unnecessary confusion.
At the heart of all this, it is most important to objectively analyze the importance of the proposed amendments, using examples from other countries, so that informed decisions can be made during final discussions.
Recently, Johns Hopkins University pulled the pin on its international relations and comparative politics program, housed under the International Center of Excellence at Rangoon University, due to a lack of academic freedom. This is an example of a tertiary institution putting great emphasis on autonomy—a principle included in current discussions on the controversial education bill.
If we look at other countries in the region, we can see varying levels of autonomy in the university sector. In Thailand, universities are divided into three categories: autonomous public, public and private. However, academic administration is autonomous under all three categories. The only difference between autonomous and non-autonomous institutions is in terms of personnel and financial administration.
In Singapore, not only higher education institutions, including the four public universities, but also some secondary schools enjoy a certain level of autonomy. In Singapore’s universities, autonomy is present in areas such as university governance, student admission, intake planning and human resources.
Given these regional examples, it seems logical that education institutions in Burma should be given a certain level of autonomy to enable them to respond quickly and creatively to the challenges and opportunities in this dynamic sector.
Of course, with autonomy comes accountability.
The examples of Thailand and Singapore reveal that autonomy cannot be applied with a “blanket approach” for all institutions. Some may be more ready than others. It is vital to carefully set criteria assessing the readiness of an institution to embrace autonomous status, and the timeline to guide them towards it.
Step by step procedures need to be in place for allowing autonomy. In Singapore, universities and secondary schools enjoy autonomous status only after they have been under a centralized system for a certain period of time. Before this, they worked closely with the Ministry of Education to set up governing bodies such as a university council to prepare them for autonomous university governance.
Another important factor to analyze is government spending on education. Of course, it would be ideal if 20 percent of the country’s national budget was spent on education, as proposed by students and education advocates.
Spending on education and health in Burma has long been neglected, eclipsed by funds for defense. But we have to carefully consider whether this 20 percent target is realistic within the time period, what kind of incremental increase would take place from the current budget percentage and how to effectively utilize the allocated funds.
It is equally important to focus on quality rather than quantity. Some countries that allocate a higher percentage of GDP for education have not always fared as well in international rankings as those with lower allocations. Increasing the education budget alone does not necessarily equate to success. A detailed and realistic plan, an implementation committee, and monitoring and evaluation procedures need to be put in place.
The Singaporean government has recently announced their 2015 budget that includes government grants, study awards and fellowship schemes for its citizens—to encourage lifelong learning and the building of skills in sectors needed for the country’s development. Such budget allocation is one example that we can learn to apply in Burma.
The existing National Education Law has been criticized for not involving teachers and students in the drafting process. It is a valid criticism as students and teachers are the key stakeholders of any education system. In the case of Finland, they approached education reform from the bottom-up, soliciting the involvement of teachers and students from a range of schools.
Such a bottom-up approach may take time but the government needs to demonstrate a sincere commitment to institute education reforms that will benefit its citizens, through an inclusive process.
Finnish Ambassador to Thailand, Kirsti Westphalen, said in an interview with the Bangkok Post that reform in Finland’s education sector took a number of years. It was important to really analyze what was needed and determine what would best produce results, she said.
If Burma’s government really hopes to see the country develop, there is no doubt that education is one area in which they should invest. However, any kind of reform needs sincerity and strong commitment, not just superficial or populist policy-making.
Is the government ready to prove that they are truly committed to bringing change in education so that Burma can again stand tall in terms of human capacity in the international community? Actions speak louder than words and only time will tell.
Khin Hnin Soe is the principal of the Myanmar Metropolitan College. She can be reached at [email protected]
Myanmar workers are preparing to protest over alleged discrimination by Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production Company, according to the Zawtika Offshore Myanmar Organization or ZOMO on February 20.
Myanmar workers in the Zawtika offshore project have alleged that PTTEP has discriminated unfairly against them by denying their rights including failure to provide wages on a par with Thai workers, and efforts to negotiate have resulted in little progress.
An official at the ZOMO said: “We will stage the protest at our offshore work site. We will wear our uniform and armband that has the Myanmar flag and Thai flag and a symbol of equation between the two flags. It means that equal rights should be given to Thai workers and Myanmar workers. We will stage the protest until our demands are met.”
On February 20, ZOMO issued a statement saying PTTEP only fulfilled one out of seven demands made by the Myanmar workers and it did not do enough to solve the issue.
The statement says the company failed to obey the rules related to environmental conservation, and violated the workers’ rights including the rights related to wages. Therefore, the workers are calling on the company to hold a face-to-face meeting involving the PTTEP, the Energy Ministry and ZOMO representatives, according to the statement.
Earlier, on February 5, the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise acted as mediator in talks between the workers and PTTEP.
The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry says it expects the volume of bilateral trade between Myanmar and India will reach US$10 billion [K10,000 billion] by 2020, reports Xinhua on February 19.
The estimate was made after the 5th meeting of the India-Myanmar Joint Trade committee in Nay Pyi Taw.
Representatives from the Myanmar and India governments focused on trade promotion, cooperation between the two business communities and investment potential in various sector including renewable energy, health services and infrastructure development, sources said.
Meanwhile, both sides are hoping for US$ 3 billion in bilateral trade in 2015, seeking possibilities to enhance trade and investment between the two countries.
According to official figures, India's investment in Myanmar amounted to US$508 million at the end of December 2014, standing 11th in Myanmar's foreign investor line-up.
LASHIO / KUNLONG, Shan State — Tens of thousands of civilians who fled fighting between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels in Laukkai and the wider Kokang Special Region find themselves scattered across northern Shan State and China’s Yunnan province.
Among them are a large contingent of migrant workers from central Burma who, after seeing their salaries disappear along with the employers that dispensed them, are weighing their options at temporary camps in Lashio, Kunlong and elsewhere.
“We left all of our belongings to speed up travel. Our lives were the most precious thing to save first,” said Kyaw Min, a worker who arrived in Kunlong, about 32 miles southwest of Laukkai.
Many workers like Kyaw Min are from small towns and villages in Magwe and Pegu divisions and the Irrawaddy Delta region, drawn to northeast Burma annually to work on plantations during the sugarcane harvest.
With their Kokang bosses and plantation owners having fled to China as battles raged between Kokang rebels and government troops, these workers were unpaid and abandoned in the sugarcane fields located on the outskirts of Laukkai and other towns in the Kokang Special Region.
When food supplies on the plantations dwindled but gunfire did not, most decided to leave the fields to undertake risky journeys back to their homes. Early movers were able to hire trucks out of the region, but those departing later had no choice but to walk as transportation options dried up with the mass exodus.
“We had to sell some of our belongings to make some money. Some of us couldn’t even carry clothes or blankets, even though they are sick. But we are really glad we made it to Lashio and hope to go back home very soon,” said Naing Oo, a worker from Pegu Division.
“We just want no war. Because of war, we lost our jobs, earning no money and instead having to run for our lives,” he added.
The conflict began on Feb. 9 and has pitted the Kokang rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) against government troops in some of the fiercest fighting in years. Dozens of soldiers on both sides have been killed, with untold civilian casualties as well.
Among the displaced in Lashio are the families of civil servants, police personnel and Burma Army soldiers. Most of them have left husbands, sons or daughters in Laukkai, where fighting continued on Thursday.
Some have lost loved ones in the ongoing conflict.
“My husband died during the battle in Laukkai and the army sent us here to Lashio for our safety. I feel proud of him and feel sad at the same time, as I don’t know what to do now without him,” said Aye Aye Win, a mother of two.
Others said they would anxiously wait out the fighting in Lashio.
“We are now so worried for them. When the conflict is over, I will urge my husband to quit the job or not return to the Kokang region ever again,” said Kyi Kyi Mar, the wife of a police sergeant who remains posted in Laukkai.
Yangon 19 February 2015: Myanmar Celebrities made donations of Food & Clothes to Fire Victims, whose village were destroyed by Fire on February 17 Night. More than 160 homes in this Bloknyunt Village, which is located across the Hlaing River from Kyimyindine Township, were engulfed by a fire. The donation event was organized by Celebrity & Model Agency. Photos by Wai Yan
RANGOON — Twenty-three years after more than a dozen members of a well-known student militia were massacred in northern Burma, a survivor of the incident has published a book recounting his experience.
The book was written by artist Htein Lin, who was a member of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) and one of the survivors of the Kachin State killings, which were carried out by some of the organization’s own members. The ABSDF was an anti-regime student army that formed after the country’s 1988 failed pro-democracy uprising to wage a campaign of armed resistance against the ruling junta of the time.
“The one definite answer as to why I wrote this book is my promise to Ko Htun Aung Kyaw [to expose the truth] and I feel like it’s my duty,” Htein Lin told the audience at a launch for the book, “ABSDF: The Northern Student Affair,” on Saturday.
In the jungles of Kachin State on Feb. 12, 1992, 15 members of the ABSDF were killed after they were accused of being spies for the military regime of the time, with some of the men tortured to death while undergoing interrogation.
Htun Aung Kyaw, the chairman of the northern ABSDF until he was accused of spying, was among those executed.
Prior to the Feb. 12 massacre, about 70 other ABSDF members were detained on similar espionage allegations in mid-1991. As many as two dozen other ABSDF members are thought to have died in the purge.
About 50 detained ABSDF members managed to escape in mid-1992, the author Htein Lin among them.
“I want readers to know how humans respond in difficult situations and while their lives are in danger,” Htein Lin said, adding that it was not easy to recount the incident.
At least three books about the massacre have previously been published.
“In my book, I was more interested to present my own experiences and how I have reflected on those instead of about the facts [relating to the incident],” Htein Lin told The Irrawaddy.
The book includes stories of the victims and descriptions of the torture, executions, deaths while in detention and the mass escape of dozens of ABSDF members suspected of espionage.
“I expect the readers will know how I felt,” he said.
Six ABSDF members who were among the party that escaped, including Htein Lin, presented performance art inspired by an excerpt from the book at its launch on Saturday.
Htein Lin said he had waited more than 20 years to tell his story because the country was not capable of meting out justice over the last two decades. Justice, the artist said, would include expulsion of individuals responsible for the killings from the ABSDF, and a clearing of the names of those accused of spying for the junta.
A daughter of U Sein, who died in ABSDF custody, opened an inquiry into her father’s death with a Rangoon court in 2012, but the case was closed four months later due to lack of evidence. In May 2013, Htun Aung Kyaw’s family also opened a case.
The ABSDF formed a truth commission to investigate the killings in 2012, and a report of its findings is expected to be released next month.
“Others haven’t open cases because the judicial process in the country is still weak,” Htein Lin said.
RANGOON — Student leaders and education NGOs on Sunday accused Burma’s government of violating the conditions of a recently reached agreement on drafting a new education bill. The groups said the Education Ministry had attempted to circulate its own bill, while authorities had continued to issue threats against students.
The Feb. 14 agreement ended large-scale student protests and was the result of extensive discussions between the government, student leaders, education NGOs, and lawmakers.
On Feb. 16, the bill was submitted to Parliament and it is due to be discussed soon. The draft incorporates the 11 principal concerns of student protesters, broadly seeking to loosen government control over educational institutions and expand access to education. Specific provisions include a decentralized curriculum and allowing for native language instruction in classrooms in ethnic minority regions.
However, on Feb. 17 state-run media published the Education Ministry’s own bill, alongside the agreed-upon bill with a title suggesting that the latter was only being proposed by education NGOs of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) and student leaders of the Action Committee for Democratic Education.
NNER member Arka Moe Thu said the government appeared to distance itself from the agreed-upon bill and had attempted to present its own education bill that was “nearly the same” as the existing Education Law that students and NGOs have been opposing in recent months.
“It violates the four-party agreement,” he said during a press conference held in Rangoon on Sunday, during which the students and NNER released an open letter criticizing the government and calling on it to abide by the Feb. 14 agreement.
As a pre-condition to that agreement, students and NGOs had demanded that the government ceased legal threats against the students, but they said on Sunday that student demonstrators that wanted to march on to Rangoon had still faced legal threats after Feb. 14.
Nationalists Criticize Students’ Education Bill
On Monday, Burma’s nationalist Buddhist movement, the Ma Ba Tha, sought to further ingrain themselves into the country’s political discussions by issuing a statement that criticized the Feb. 14 education bill now in Parliament.
State media published a statement by the Ma Ba Tha, which is led by radical Buddhist monks and has been accused of fanning hate speech against Burma’s Muslim minority, saying that some unnamed provisions in the bill “will cause worries for the future of the country, dangerous loopholes, disastrous side-effects and tricks.”
A man answering the phone at Ma Ba Tha’s Rangoon center declined to explain the vaguely-worded statement. The Irrawaddy understands that the statement is targeted at Article 34 (j) of the bill.
In the current Education Law’s Article 34 Buddhist monastic schools are the only religious schools that can teach in minority languages. Amendments proposed by student leaders and education NGOs would add provision Article 34(j) that would expand the right to teach ethnic minority children in their mother language to all other religious schools.
In the days before Ma Ba Tha released its criticism of the education bill, posts began to appear on Burma’s social network sites where apparently nationalist Facebook users warned that Article 34(j) could lead to teaching of Arabic languages at Islamic schools.
Burma has an active and rapidly growing group of social network users and the sites have been used in the past to spread nationalist hate speech.
Independent education expert Thein Lwin, who helped draw up the Feb. 14 bill, said the amendment to Article 34 had been included at the request of Christian ethnic minority organizations that ran schools in ethnic regions, where many children entering primary school initially only speak their mother tongue.
“In education, there is no discrimination and we found that children learn more effectively when the teacher teaches in their native language,” he said.
Aung Hmine San, a student leader on the Action Committee for Democratic Education, said it appeared that the government was using the Ma Ba Tha to discredit the education NGOs and student movement, which have been popular with the Burmese public.
RANGOON — One of Burma’s leading women’s rights groups on Monday published groundbreaking qualitative research revealing troubling patterns of violence against women that had long gone unexamined.
In an 83-page report titled, “Behind the Silence: Violence Against Women and their Resilience,” Rangoon-based Gender Equality Network (GEN) undertook a deep study into the types of violence experienced by women in Burma and how women’s rights are perceived by a cross-section of society.
The extensive study, which was conducted by a team of five primary researchers in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, was among the first of its kind and will help to underpin a new anti-violence against women law set to reach Parliament in April or May of this year.
Research consisted of in-depth interviews with 38 women in Rangoon and Moulmein who had each experienced some form of intimate partner violence. Further study was carried out during focus group discussions in Lashio, Magwe, Loikaw, Labutta and Kale, and key informant interviews were conducted among relevant officials, legal advisors, counselors and various authorities.
A review of existing literature on violence against women (VAW) in Burma was also carried out, concluding that discrepancies in research methodology and terminology surrounding the issue to date has left “gaps in the literature,” whereby some types of violence have been overlooked and thus unaddressed.
GEN’s report also noted a “concerning lack of ethical and safety structures in place to minimize the possible negative consequences of research on sensitive topics with vulnerable women,” advising that future research be conducted with particular attention to confidentiality, follow-up support and avoiding future risk for participants.
The report, while admittedly not comprehensive, is what GEN referred to as “a step toward ending violence,” providing a picture of some of the forms violence takes in Burma, how it is experienced and how it is addressed. The study focused primarily on abuse perpetrated by partners such as husbands or boyfriends, but also examined some cases of non-partner abuse.
Participants described a broad range of violence, including economic manipulation, verbal abuse, physical and sexual assault. Almost all of the women involved in the study had experienced more than one type of abuse, indicating that violence is “not a one-off,” but rather a recurrent predicament.
More than half of participants had experienced intimate partner sexual violence, or marital rape, which is not a crime in Burma. GEN advocated strongly for the inclusion of a provision on marital rape in forthcoming legislation, noting that while current law does not identify this type of abuse as a crime, women also typically do not view it as such.
In the case of women who were sexually abused by their partner, the report said that “[v]ery few women actively identified their experiences as rape, yet all of them described incidents in which they were forced to have sex against their will.”
Normative attitudes about sex were found to center on male desire and female submission, the report said, resulting in societal values that herald “purity” and can lead to severe stigmatization. In some cases, women married men who raped them to avoid shaming themselves or their families.
“He grabbed me and had sex with me. I screamed, and he told me to be quiet and not shame him,” read one woman’s account of the first time she was with her spouse. “We became like husband and wife after sex, right? So I had to get married to him.”
Stephanie Miedema, one of the study’s principal researchers, said that similarities were apparent in the accounts of many of the women; most faced multiple forms of abuse, many had difficulty seeking support, and the experience of abuse often reinforced attitudes of inequality.
“Many women’s stories pointed to this idea that abuse is an indicator of unequal status in society,” she said, adding that disadvantages enshrined in law and in societal norms leave women “unable to negotiate their safety and security.”
Miedema’s colleague, Dr. San Shwe, reiterated the need to push forward with the Myanmar National Prevention of Violence Against Women Law, in order to ensure that all forms of violence are recognized as such and to provide women who experience abuse with avenues of adequate support and legal recourse.
“We still do not have a good law to protect [women] from some kinds of abuse,” she said, remarking specifically on psychological abuse, which the study found to be common among most participants, particularly in the form of humiliation and verbal abuse. “There are people who go mad, go loopy,” she said, “they get depressed, some of them attempt suicide.”
The report’s authors recommended that more research—both qualitative and quantitative—be carried out in continued efforts to understand how violence plays out and affects women in Burma, and advocated for the creation of a legal framework that provides for identifying and preventing abuse, supporting survivors, making recourse and medical care available and affordable, and promoting gender equality more generally. GEN also advocated for primary- and secondary-school curricula focusing on gender awareness, sexual and reproductive health.