Thursday, 20 June 2013

Freedom of Expression in Burma?

Gentle Reader,

Recently I started looking at the easiest way to obtain a visa for Burma (Myanmar) and came upon a blog called The Mad Traveler on line.   I just have to share one paragraph from his article about the visa process at the embassy in Bangkok. "For a tourist visa you have to include a short work history. What were your last two jobs, beginning and end dates, work phone number, job title. It’s important not to include the obvious red flags: journalist, photographer, human rights activist, rabble rouser, terrorist, missionary".  

It appears to me the United States and the European Union told Burma that freedom of press and freedom of expression would be a prerequisite to opening up trade and aid to Burma.  The government of Myanmar responded quickly that freedom of expression is the new reality in that country.  Many people missed, or chose to miss the wink.

One of the newsletters to which I subscribe is Burma Partnership.  This morning I received a brief article that, at least for me, tells a awful lot about the state of freedom of expression and freedom of press in Burma.   I'll copy it here.

"20 June 2013

Statement by Three Human Rights Defenders 
By Moe Thway, Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin

We would like to explain what is happening to us, Moe Thway (Generation Wave), Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin (Yangon People Service Network), in these days.

On 13 June 2013, Monywa court issued warrants to arrest the three of us under section 505(b) of the Penal Code. Lieutenant Khin Zaw Latt from Monywa Police Station 1 said he requested Monywa court to charge us with section 505(b) because of our comments about the Letpadaung copper mine case.

On 25 April 2013, there was some violence between local police and villagers in the Letpadaung copper mine project area when villagers tried to plough their fields, which are in an area that they were prohibited to enter under section 144 of the Penal Code. Local police arrested an activist and two villagers and also issued a warrant for 8 other activists and villagers. As the consequences of that case, villagers were afraid of police raids on their villages and the possibility of more violence.

Because of that situation, we were worried that there would be more conflicts between local authorities and people. So we four activists, Aung Thu (88 Generation), Moe Thway (Generation Wave), Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin (Yangon People Service Network), went to Monywa and Letpadaung villages on 8 May 2013 to try to calm down the tensions in that area. We informed to the local police, administration and also government, that we were coming to find a compromise and peaceful way to resolve the problems.

During that trip, we met and consulted with people from several villages surrounding the Letpadaung project and brought their requests to local authorities. We sent the information we got from local people to the Prime Minister of Sagaing Region, U Tha Aye, and also to the chairman of Letpadaung mining project implementation committee, U Hla Tun, and two ministers of the President Office, U Aung Min and U Ohn Myint. We requested to meet Sagaing Region government, but we didn’t get the chance to meet the Prime Minister of Sagaing Region although we waited for 5 days from 8 to 12 May 2013. One of us, Wai Lu had a chance to meet U Aung Min, Minister of the President Office, to report about the situation in Yangon on 12 May 2013.

While we were in Monywa, we were asked for an interview by some local reporters. We had an interview with them at a tea shop named Pin Lone. Some police from the Special Branch were nearby and closely watched our interview. One reporter shot a video recording while we were answering questions. We spoke out our opinions of local police using section 144 of the Penal Code to keep villagers from entering their fields and prohibited areas near the mining project.

Unfortunately, Sagaing Region police force felt that our comments and opinions in the interview damaged the police and the government’s credibility. So they proposed the court to arrest us and charge us under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which carries a possible sentence of 2 years imprisonment.
We are being charged for giving an interview to media and expressing our opinions about police actions in a civil rights movement case. The government is telling the world that there is freedom of expression and is getting so much appreciation. But this warrant is an attack on our right to freedom of expression and is destroying Myanmar’s democratic transition.

We call on the government, the police and all authorities to ensure freedom of expression for all people of Myanmar as an important step on our path towards democracy."

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Spot Light On Burma!

Gentle Reader, 

It's impossible for me to write anything at all original about the 'Gala Charity Dinner and Dance - Spotlight on Burma'  My friend Garret Kostin, the director of the Chiang Mai branch of the Best Friend Burmese Library, has done a sterling job of posting information.   I'll just hit a few highlights, post a few photo's and ask you to check out the face book pages which are at Peace in Burma and The Best Friend Library 

Depending on who you talk to the event was about many things.  For me it started out about helping to raise money to keep the library open in the future.  However, it turned out to be much more.  It was an evening of awareness, compassion and good old fashioned fun!   The event's silent auction raised 65,550 baht ($2,260 US).  My congratulations to the contributing artists and my gratitude to the generous attendees who made this possible! 

Maliwan watches over a silent auction table
while I was taking pictures and networking.

One of the post event items posted on face book is more than worth quoting:  He wrote:  "If you had to pick just one, what would you say was your very favorite part of "Burma in the Spotlight" last night??

This could possibly be mine: the amazing DIVERSITY -- men and women; old and young; Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, atheists; Thais, Burmese, Shan, Kachin, Karen, Americans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Japanese, Australians, Germans, Brits, and on and on... All coming together for a night of fun together to support Burma, migrants and refugees, and the projects of The Best Friend in Chiang Mai and Shan State!"

My personal favorite experience was having the honor to meet Tin Tin Nyo, the Secretary General of the Women's league of Burma.  Short, to the point and very powerful is how I would describe her key note address.  She emphasized the need for women to be involved in Burma's political future and noted that while  changes are being proclaimed by the Burmese government any real change must be implemented on the ground.

Tin Tin Nyo and her party
Often I find myself frustrated, saddened and angry because horrific things happen to human beings and the people who influence the world just don't give a damn.  They seem only interested in lining their own pockets.  However, on the night of 1 June 2013 more than 450 people (guests, volunteers, staff and dignitaries) came together to support the Burmese people in their struggle for true freedom.   The event would not have been possible without all of them. However I'd like to mention:  Garrett Kostin, whose tireless work has made the library a reality!

Garrett Kostin
Director Best Friend Library Chiang Mai
The amazing food we enjoyed is a credit to the head Chef of the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel which provided a marvelous venue.   The event organizers Ram and Bazil made the event truly spectacular.   Several of my friends have commented on the quality and attention to detail that went into this special evening.

The Chef, The Organizers and someone

I posted images from the event at  Spotlight_on_Burma  They are also on my Facebook page Enjoy.  If you want to make a print of one any of these images please contact me and I will provide you with a print size file.  Please DO NOT download and print the images from my photobucket account or from my Facebook page.  First they are to small to get make a good print and 2nd it's a copyright violation.  A few more of my favorites are below.  Enjoy! 

Lovely Young Performers Ready for their big night!

We Women, one of many organizations represented

The Dance of the White Dear, a marvelous performace

Dang Fantastic, and he is! 

Grace and Beauty! 

Three English Students just after they made their first public speech!