Sunday, 17 January 2010

Burma freedom is ‘worst of the worst’

A Washington-based NGO has labeled Burma one of the worst countries in the world for ‘freedom’ in an annual report, released yesterday.

Burma ranks alongside nine other countries in the “worst of the worst” category in Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in the World 2010’ report, which includes Libya, Tibet, China, Eritrea, North Korea and Equatorial Guinea.

The organization, funded largely by the US government and the conservative Bradley Foundation, has been producing the report for nearly forty years, which “examines the ability of individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in 194 countries and 14 territories around the world.”

Determinants of ‘freedom’ include whether “people’s political choices are free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group”.

It also includes a base alignment system, with countries ranked either ‘free’, ‘partially free’ or ‘not free’. This is based on a score system for civil liberties and political freedom, with seven being the lowest and one the highest. Burma predictably scores seven on both counts.

This will make worrying reading for the international observers who will be closely monitoring the planned elections this year. Critics of the ruling junta have already labeled them a sham that will enable the military to retain power.

“This report reflects the actual situation in Burma,” said Soe Aung, foreign affairs spokesperson of the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB).

“Moreover, some international and local groups tend to overlook the real situation in predicting that the elections in Burma will bring an opening for a change. The lives of the people [in Burma] should not be gambled at all.”

In terms of population, China’s inclusion in the ‘not free’ category made it the largest of the three groupings.

Freedom House emphasizes in its methodology that it “does not maintain a culture-bound view of freedom”, whilst noting that “American leadership in international affairs is essential to the cause of human rights and freedom".

Overall the report finds that there has been a “freedom recession” and an “authoritarian resurgence” in the last year.


Activists sentenced ‘without evidence’

Three Burmese opposition activists were sentenced yesterday to three years’ with hard labour, despite the prosecution being unable to provide any palpable evidence for their charges, a lawyer said.

The three National League for Democracy (NLD) party members were charged under the Unlawful Associations Act for allegedly accepting money from a member of the banned NLD-Liberated Areas (NLD-LA) party, Eva.

Lawyer Kyaw Ho said that the trial judge, Tin Swe Lin, had given the three, Shwe Gyo, Ma Cho (also known as Myint Myint San) and Sein Hlaing, harsh sentences despite a lack of solid evidence.

“There were neither eye-witnesses nor paperwork evidence that [the three] had accepted money from Eva,” said Kyaw Ho. “We cannot accept such a ruling on legal grounds and we are preparing to appeal.”

The three were arrested in March last year and have been kept in detention since, although Kyaw Ho said the time already spent in detention will not be subtracted from their sentence.

“There is an official court guideline stating that the amount of time a person has spent in detention during the trial has to be subtracted from the prison term,” he said, adding that this would also be appealed.

There had been prior speculation that the three were being targeted for their work in helping political prisoners, although there was no mention of this from Kyaw Ho.

Several NLD members reported last month that they were being forced by Burmese intelligence officers to divulge details about their families and jobs, reportedly on instruction from senior government.

Others were reportedly being photographed and told to fill out questionnaires, although the NLD sent out a directive to members urging them not to comply.

Analysts believe pressure against the NLD and other opposition groups is likely to increase this year as the ruling junta prepares for its first elections since 1990, when it ignored a landslide victory by the NLD.


Sunday, 10 January 2010

သဗၺဇယ မဂၤလာဂါထာေတာ္

ဒိဝါတပတိ အာဒိေစၥာ။
(ေနမင္းႄကီးသည္ ေန႔အခါတြင္ ထြန္းလင္း တင္႔တယ္၏။)

ရတၱိမာဘာတိ စႏၵိမာ။
(လမင္းႄကီးသည္ ညအခါတြင္ ထြန္းလင္း တင္႔တယ္၏။)

သႏၷေဒါၶ ခတၴိေယာ ဘာတိိ။
(ရွင္ဘုရင္တို႔သည္ မင္းေျမာက္တန္ဆာ ၅ပါးဝတ္ဆင္ထားေသာ အခ်ိန္တြင္ ထြန္းလင္း တင္႔တယ္၏။)

စ်ာယီ တပတိ ျဗာဟၼေဏာ။
(ရဟန္းတို႔သည္ စ်န္ဝင္စားေနေသာ အခ်ိန္တြင္ ထြန္းလင္း တင္႔တယ္၏။)

အထသဗၺ မေဟာရတၱႎ
ဗုေဒါၶ တပတိိ ေတဇသာ
(ဘုရားရွင္တို႔သည္ ေန႔ညအခါခပ္သိမ္း ထြန္းလင္းတင္႔တယ္၏။)

တာဒိသံ ေတဇ သမၸႏၷံ
ဗုဒံၶ ဝႏၵာမိ အာဒံရံ။
(ဤသို႔တင္႔တယ္ေတာ္မူေသာ ျမတ္စြာဘုရားအား အကၽြႏိုပ္သည္ ရိုေသစြာရွိခိုး ကန္ေတာပါ၏။)

နမကၠရာ ႏုဘာေဝန
သေဗၺပုေရ ႏၱဳ သကၤပၸါ။
(ဤသို႔ ရွိခိုး ကန္ေတာ႔ရ ျခင္းေႄကာင္႔ အလံုးစံုေသာ ကိစၥဟူသမွ်တို႔သည္ ျပီးျပည္႔စံု၍ေအာင္ျမင္ပါေစသတည္း။)


Saturday, 9 January 2010


First of all, this Constitution was written without people's representatives. The National League for Democracy (NLD) which is the largest major opposition party and which won 392 parliamentary seats out of 492 in the 1990 general elections quit the NC in 1996. Furthermore, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) which is the second largest party and which won 23 parliamentary seats in the same elections also quit the NC in 1996 together with the NLD. The NC was officially resumed on 17/05/04 for the first time and concluded on 03/09/07 without the participation of NLD and SNLD representatives. It is therefore evident that The Constitution was written without people's representatives.

Second of all, it was written in favour of the military. The Constitution allows the military to govern the country legally. If this Constitution is ratified, if this Constitution comes into life, it will prolong the life of the repressive regime for decades. There are a number of Articles in the Constitution which obviously spotlight the role of the military with regard to the future of Burma. For instances: (the numbers are the Articles of the Constitution 2008)

6. The Union’s consistent objectives are :
(f) enabling the Defence Services to be able to participate in the National political leadership role of the State.

Comment: This Article 6 allows the military to take a leadership role of the State as long as this Constitution exists.

14. The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the Region Hluttaws and the State Hluttaws include the Defence Services personnel as Hluttaw representatives nominated by the Commander-in- Chief of the Defence Services in numbers stipulated by this Constitution.

Comment: The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (The Union Assembly/ The Parliament); The Region Hluttaws( Regions are formerly known as Divisions: Mandalay Division, Sagaing Division, etc.); The State Hluttaws ( States are the same as former States: Shan State, Kachin State, etc.)
The Union Assembly comprises two assemblies: The Region Assembly and The State Assembly. There will be soldiers in uniforms in the two assemblies and accordingly, in the Union Assembly. What a shame! Soldiers want to be in the places where they do not belong.

20. (b) The Defence Services has the right to independently administer and adjudicate
all affairs of the armed forces.

Comment: Founding parallel sovereign power to that of the Union Assembly. Only Union Assembly (Parliament) should have the right to exercise legislative power, administrative power and judicial power. The Defence Services will become an independent body without any control. No civil court and civil justice system will have the right to administer them. In short, they can do what they like in line with this Article.

26. (a) Civil Services personnel shall be free from party politics.

Comment: Abusing the fundamental rights of the civil servents. On the contrary, there is a proviso (an execption) in Article 121 (j) allowing selected and appointed Civil Services personnel and Defence Services personnel to become representatives of the parliament. It does not clearly state that which kind of Civil Services can become representatives. As for the Defence Services personnel, it is obvious that they can become representatives by the appointment of the Commander-in-Chief of Defences Services. Parliament will be mingled with selected and appointed representatives. How inappropriate!

32. The Union shall :
(a) care for mothers and children, orphans, fallen Defence Services personnel’s children, the aged and the disabled;
(b) ensure disabled ex-Defence Services personnel a decent living and free vocational training.

Comment: This Article 32(b) neglect the disabled ex-Civil Services personnel. There will be ex-Civil Services personel who are disabled due to their nature of job performances. Personnel from industrial sectors such as mining, production of minerals and other production sectors could become disabled in the line of their duties. The Constutution only ensure the care for ex-Defence Services personnel. This is a significant seperation between Civil Services personnel and Defence Services personnel. It will become a thorn in the heart of the Civil Servents and lead to the disintegration of the people of the Union. How privileged! How tactful to seperate soldiers from people!

40. (b) If there arises or there is sufficient reason to arise a state of emergency endangering life and property of the people in a Region, State or Self-Administered Area, the Defence Services has the right, in accord with the provisions of this Constitution, to prevent that danger and provide protection.
40. (c) If there arises a state of emergency that could cause disintegration of the Union, disintegration of national solidarity and loss of sovereign power or attempts therefore by wrongful forcible means such as insurgency or violence, the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services has the right to take over and exercise State sovereign power in accord with the provisions of this Constitution.

Comment: Articles 40 (b) and (c) give the military to practise sovereign power in a Region, State or Self-Administered Area and in the whole Union in a situation where a state of emergency is declared.

59. Qualifications of the Presidents and Vice-Presidents are as follows:
(d) shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic and military;

Comment: The President and Vice-Presidents shall be well acquainted with military affairs means they will be military personnel or ex-military personnel. Only these people are eligible to hold the presidential office.

71. (a) The President or any Vice-President may be impeached for one of the
following reasons :
(i) high treason;
(ii) breach of the provisions of this Constitution;
(iii) misconduct;
(iv) being disqualified for the President or Vice-President under provisions as prescribed in this Constitution;
(v) inefficient discharge of duties assigned by law.

Comment: This article allows to take action against the President and Vice-Presidents. And there are several articles that allows the State to take action against representatives, civil servants, etc but there is not a single article which allows the State to take action against the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services. It is like "THE KING CAN DO NO WRONG" principle. The Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services is given a place above the law. How fair!

109 . The Pyithu Hluttaw shall be formed with a maximum of 440 Hluttaw representatives as follows: (b) not more than 110 Pyithu Hluttaw representatives who are the Defence Services personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services in accord with the law.

Comment: This article allows military personnel to be appointed by the C-in-C in the Pyithu Hluttaw (People's Assembly). The number is 25% of the whole representatives.

141. The Amyotha Hluttaw shall be formed with a maximum of 224 Hluttaw
representatives as follows :
(a) 168 Amyotha Hluttaw representatives elected in an equal number of 12 representatives from each Region or State inclusive of relevant Union territories and including one representative from each Self-Administered Division or Self-Administered Zone;
(b) 56 Amyotha Hluttaw representatives who are the Defence Services personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services in accord with the law, four representatives from each Region or State inclusive of relevant Union territories;

Comment: Also in the Amyotha Hluttaw (National Assembly), there are 56 army personnel appointed by the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services. 56 out of 224 representatives means 25% of the National Assembly representatives are army personnel.

Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Union Assembly) is made up of Pyithu Hluttaw (People's Assembly)and Amyotha Hluttaw (National Assembly). In People's Assembly, 110 out of 440 representatives are appointed army personnel: and in National Assembly, 56 out of 168 representatives are appointed army personnel. How interesting!

121. The following persons shall not be entitled to be elected as the Pyithu Hluttaw (People's Assembly) representatives (j) Civil Services personnel;
Proviso: The expression shall not be applied to Civil Services personnel including the Defence Services personnel selected and appointed in the Hluttaws and organizations formed under the Constitution.

Comment: Civil Services personnel are not allowed to be elected as the Pyithu Hluttaw representatives but there is an execption: Defence Services personnel are allowed to be selected and appointed as representatives. How privileged!

Formation of the National Defence and Security Council
201. The National Defence and Security Council led by the President, to enable it to discharge the duties assigned by the Constitution or any law, shall be formed with the following persons :
(a) The President;
(b) Vice-President;
(c) Vice-President;
(d) Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw;
(e) Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw;
(f) Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services;
(g) Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services;
(h) Minister for Defence;
(i) Minister for Foreign Affairs;
(j) Minister for Home Affairs;
(k) Minister for Border Affairs.

232 (b)(ii) obtain a list of suitable Defence Services personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services for Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs;

Comment: Ministers for Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs are military personnel. Therefore, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw and Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw, only these 3 are not from the military in the National Defence snd Security Council (NDSC). There are 11 members in the NDSC. 8 members are from the military. In Article 412(a)and (b), the President shall declare a state of emergency after co-ordinating with the NDSC. However, 8 out of 11 NDSC members are military personnel or ex-military personnel. Therefore the President can declare a state of emergency with the approval of the majority of NDSC any time he desires. How imbalance!

232 (b) (iii) co-ordinate with the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services if he desires to appoint the Defence Services personnel as Union Ministers for other Ministries apart from Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs.

Comment: This Article allows military personnel to be appointed in other ministeries and it is in accordance with the Constitution. How greedy! The military will take the most important ministeries: Defence, Home Affairs, Border Affairs and in addition, other ministeries so they desire.

232 (j) (i) If the Union Minister is a Civil Services personnel, it shall be deemed that he has retired according to the existing civil service rules and regulations from the day he is appointed as a Union Minister.
232 (j) (ii) The Defence Services personnel who are appointed as Union Ministers for the Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs are not required to retire or resign from the Defence Services.

Comment: It means Civil Services personnel are not allowed to become Union Ministers but not the military personnel. How unjust!

234 (b) The President shall, to appoint the Deputy Ministers for Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs, have the list of suitable Defence Services personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.
234 (c) The President shall co-ordiante with the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services if he desires to appoint the Defence Services personnel as the Deputy Ministers of other Ministries apart from the Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs.

Comment: Not only the ministers, but the military personnel will become deputy ministers. How greedy!

262 The Chief Minister of the Region or State shall (a) (ii) request for a list of suitable Defence Services personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services to assign responsibilities of Security and Border Affairs;
262 (j) The Chief Minister of the Region or State shall, if he wishes to assign the Defence Services personnel as the Region or State Ministers for other duties apart from security and border affairs, obtain their list from the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services with the approval of the Region or State Hluttaw concerned, submit it to the President.

Comment: Not only at the Union level, but as well in the Region or the State, military personnel will become ministers and deputy ministers in accordance with this article. How greedy!

276 (d) Leading Bodies of the Self-Administered Division or the Self-Administered Zone shall be formed with the following persons :
276 (d)(ii) the Defence Services personnel representatives nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services to assign duties relating to Security or Border Affairs;

276 (i) The Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services shall assign the duties to the one-fourth of the total number of members with the Defence Services personnels in the Leading Bodies of the Self-Administered Division or Self-Administered Zone, as necessary.

Comment: These Articles 276(d) and (i) indicate how military personnel will occupy the most important seats in the Self-Administered areas. How monopolistic! At the Union level, the Region or State level and at last the Self-Administered level, the military personnel will be seen everywhere.

412. (a) If the President, learns that or if the respective local administrative body submits that there arises or is sufficient reason to arise a state of emergency endangering the lives, shelter and property of the public in a Region or a state or a Union Territory or a Self-Administered Area, after co-ordinating with the National Defence and Security Council, may promulgate an ordinance and declare a state of emergency.
412(b) If all the members are unable to attend the meeting held by the President to co-ordinate with the National Defence and Security Council under Sub-Section (a), the President may declare in time a state of emergency after co-ordinating with the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services, the Minister for Defence, and the Minister for Home Affairs who are members. The said declaration shall be submitted to the National Defence and Security Council for approval as soon as possible.

Comment: Please see comment at Article 232 b (ii)

413 (b) the President may, if necessary, declare a military administrative order. In the said order, the executive powers and duties and the judicial powers and duties concerning community peace and tranquillity and prevalence of law and order shall be conferred on the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services. The Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services may exercise the said powers and duties himself or empower on any suitable military authority to exercise thereof.

419. The Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services to whom the sovereign power has been transferred shall have the right to exercise the powers of legislature, executive and judiciary. The Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services may exercise the legislative power either by himself or by a body including him. The executive power and the judicial power may be transferred to and exercised by an appropriate body that has been formed or a suitable person.

Comment: The State Sovereign Power: Legislature, Executive and Judiciary will be conferred on the C-in-C of Defence Services. How crazy! It will be like a lunatic sitting on the lion throne.

432. The legitimate measures of any administrative body or any of its members, any Civil Services body or any of its members, and any military body or any of its members assigned powers and duties to take measures as required in order to speedily restore the security, stability, community peace and tranquility and prevalence of law and order to its original state on behalf of the President while a declaration of emergency is in operation or during the duration the sovereign power is being exercised by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services or during the duration the sovereign power is being exercised by the National Defence and Security Council, shall be valid. No legal action shall be taken on such legitimate measures.

Comment: This is the worst of all. It means while the C-in-C of Defence Services is exercising the sovereign power of the State, his or his surbodinats' acts cannot be sued or charged with any law. They can do whatever they like to the general public. How unjust and how useless of the Constitution!

We therefore condemn the Union of Myanmar Constitution 2008 and oppose the brutal ruling of this repressive military government, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Current Task: The Draft Constitution was promulgated by the Head of the State on 29/05/08. The Referendum Commission Chairman Aung Toe cheated the whole nation and the world by announcing that 92.48% of eligible voters cast YES vote and approved the Draft Constitution.

We, people of Burma, should oppose the election which is supposed to be held in 2010 because if that election is held, this Myanmar Constitution 2008 will come into operation as stated in Article 441 of that Constitution.


Burmese reporter receives 20-year sentence

A Burmese reporter who contributed video material to the Democratic Voice of Burma has been handed a 20-year prison sentence, bringing to 13 the number of imprisoned journalists in Burma.

The news was met with outrage by leading international media watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), and the Burma Media Association (BMA).

“People had been expecting signs of an opening and goodwill gestures from the military junta in this election year, but this extremely severe sentence on a 25-year-old video maker and the junta chief’s recent threatening comments leave little hope that the elections will be free,” the two organisations said in a statement.

Hla Hla Win was first arrested in September 2009, and in October was given a seven-year sentence. Then on 31 December, she was found guilty of violating the Electronics Act, often used by the junta to imprison video reporters, and handed a further 20 years.

A colleague she was with at the time, Myint Naing, was also arrested, and has been given a 26-year sentence.

Hla Hla Win’s imprisonment follows on from the arrest of DVB cameraman, ‘T’, who filmed the aftermath of cyclone Nargis in May 2008.

The footage was made into the documentary, Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone, although T was subsequently arrested and is now standing trial, and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years.

The military government in Burma is expected to intensify harassment and imprisonment of opposition in the run-up to elections this year. Already, 2,177 activists, journalists, politician and lawyers are serving lengthy prison sentences, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP).

Junta chief Than Shwe on Monday warned people to make the “correct choices” when voting in the elections, although he is yet to announce a date for polling.

Burma ranked 171 out of 175 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index 2009, and has been cited by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as the world’s “worst country to be a blogger”.


US senator Webb gives election backing

US senator Jim Webb, the only senior-level US official to have met Burmese junta chief Than Shwe, has said that he supports the junta’s controversial planned elections, to be held this year.

In a statement released on Monday, Webb, who chairs the US senate’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs subcommittee, said that he “was pleased to learn that the Burmese government is carrying forward its intention to hold national elections in 2010”.

“I will support all appropriate efforts to ensure that the election process is credible and transparent… [and] stand ready to help in all appropriate ways as we work toward the day when the Burmese people can fully rejoin the world community.” he added.

Echoing UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s praise for the “support” from the junta of UN goals for the country, Webb said that the UN and other international organizations “could provide valuable election assistance, and thus enhance the integrity of the process”.

The Burmese government is yet to announce a date for elections, which have been mired in controversy. The international community is undecided on whether to support what appears to be a superficial ploy to cement military rule in the country, with the 2008 constitution guaranteeing 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military even prior to voting.

Despite Webb’s comments, the US state department said on Monday that it had seen no evidence of a willingness by the generals to move towards democratic transition, with the number of political prisoners continuing to rise.

Webb however holds considerable clout on US policy to Burma, and his visit to the pariah state in May triggered a shift towards an emphasis on US engagement with the reclusive generals, following years of sanctions and isolation.

He also met with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, although the constitution, coupled with her ongoing house arrest, prohibits her from participating in the elections.

Consequently, her National League for Democracy (NLD) party has not yet announced whether it will compete or not, and has demanded a revision of the constitution prior to polling.

His comments also symbolized a wider shift in rhetoric from both Washington and the UN, which in the past had been accusatory.


Burma elections to be held ‘in October’

Elections in Burma could be held in October this year, according to information leaked from a meeting between the head of a Japanese charity and Burma’s agriculture minister.

The revelation follows a visit to Japan in August last year by agriculture minister Htay Oo, who also heads a proxy organization of the Burmese junta, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

Whilst there he met with the politically influential Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, Japan’s largest charity. Htay Oo had reportedly visited Japan to observe elections there.

A Japanese source, speaking to DVB on condition of anonymity, said that Htay Oo had told Sasakawa that Burma’s elections would be held in October this year. The source also said that Japan had offered technical assistance in conducting the elections.

The revelation was then corroborated following a visit to Burma last October by the executive director of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF), Seki Akinori, who is believed to have met with senior government ministers. The SPF was set up by Sasakawa.

There Akinori was also told that elections would be held in October this year, according to the source.

The Tokyo-based Asahi Shimbun newspaper, who carried a similar report yesterday, said that the electoral and political party laws will be disseminated in April, around the time of Burmese New Year.

The report also said that the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party would be recognized as legitimate participants in the election in order to placate pressure from the international community.

A junta source told Asahi Shimbun however that Burma’s military rulers believe that restrictions placed on the party, coupled with the ongoing house arrest of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, would significantly weaken their chances of any success.

Details on the elections have to date been shrouded in mystery, although junta chief Than Shwe confirmed earlier this week that they would take place some time this year.

The NLD has not yet announced whether it will participate, and has demanded a revision of the 2008 constitution, which appears to guarantee a continuation of military rule in Burma.


Saturday, 26 December 2009

Detained US citizen moved to ‘dog cells’

The Burmese-born US citizen detained in Rangoon’s Insein prison has been moved to the prison’s notorious ‘dog cells’ where inmates are held in solitary confinement, often in appalling conditions.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin, also known as Nyi Nyi Aung, was moved following his nine-day hunger strike, which ended on 15 December, his aunt told DVB after visiting him Sunday.

“Now he is spending time alone in a small cell in the dog ward,” said Khin Khin Swe. “He is not allowed to talk to anyone or go anywhere apart from two outing sessions a day.”

She added that US embassy diplomats and Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s lawyer, Nyan Win, were present during his court appearance last Friday, but were not allowed to talk to him. Khin Khin Swe believed this was punishment for the 40-year-old’s hunger strike.

“He asked for the embassy to make it possible to see him and the lawyers to meet with him before 29 December [the date set for the next court hearing],” she said.

The US embassy in Rangoon told Su Su Kyi in September that he had shown signs of having been tortured whilst in detention.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin, a former activist with the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) who fled Burma to the US in 1993, was arrested upon arrival at Rangoon airport on 3 September. His is being tried on charges of fraud and forgery, which together carry a maximum sentence of 17 years.

There had been initial speculation that judges would try him on terrorism charges, but these have been dropped.

According to Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), who himself spent time in Insein’s dog ward during his seven-year sentence, the cells usually measure 10 feet by 10 feet and little light enters.

“The dog cells are very isolated. Sometimes guards do not allow inmates to shower for two weeks,” he said. There will be many restrictions on him. Depending on the situation, prisoners can be put in the punishment [stress] positions, but we don’t know if this applies to him.”

The US embassy has said that it continues to pressure for consular access to Kyaw Zaw Lwin, but so far the government has not responded. The last time an embassy official met with him was on 3 December.


Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sex workers on the rise in Rangoon

More women and young men are resorting to prostitution in order to scrape a living in Burma’s former capital of Rangoon, local residents and social workers have said.

Despite strict laws banning prostitution in Burma, owners of brothels and massage parlours are bribing police and local authorities to turn a blind eye, a Rangoon-based civil servant told DVB.

The increase is likely to cause alarm among health workers following a recent United Nations report that found that 18 percent of female sex workers in Burma carry the HIV virus. The report did not mention statistics for male sex workers.

“Before you saw only girls; it was rare to see boys,” said a social worker at an organisation tackling HIV/AIDS in Burma. “Their networks are also numerous; the majority of them tend to be on flyovers and in public toilets.”

According to a Rangoon resident, many of the young sex workers hail from nearby Irrawaddy, Mon, Karen and Bago divisions. Since cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta in May 2008, leaving 2.4 million homeless, sex worker numbers in Rangoon have soared.

Many leave home and end up in the industry after telling their parents they are pursuing work as housemaids or factory workers in Rangoon, he said, although many are thought to be lured by false promises of high-earning jobs. Money is then remitted back to families.

“As the commodity price is rising and they have no regular income, they have to do whatever job they can find,” said the social worker, adding that it is hard to survive on a factory worker’s salary.

She said that crackdowns by police in Rangoon are causing the problem to become cyclical, especially when family members are forced to step in to the role to continue the flow of remittances.

“There have been arrests, but if they arrest one, two more emerge,” she said. “If one girl is arrested and imprisoned, her younger sisters follow her path to feed both their family at home and their [imprisoned] sister.”

According to the United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) programme, HIV/AIDS is leveling off overall in Burma, but remains high in marginalized populations such as sex workers and injecting drug users. Across Asia, around 350,000 were newly infected with the virus last year.

The Burmese government has been heavily criticized for its low spending on healthcare; around $US43 per person per year, according to the World Health Organisation.

“The government gives no medication, no registration, and seems to claim that there are no prostitutes here,” said the civil servant. “It will never do anything. The more die, the better it is; that’s the attitude.”

An estimated 25,000 Burmese sex workers are earning a living in neighbouring Thailand, where the industry feeds off high tourist numbers. It is estimated that 60 percent of Burmese sex workers in Thailand are under 18.


‘Enthusiastic’ Suu Kyi calls for party reform

The detained leader of Burma’s largest political party has called for it to be reorganised for the first time in the party’s 21-year history, following rare talks with three senior party members.

The demand was heralded as “really necessary” by senior National League for Democracy (NLD) member, Win Tin, who has been a lynchpin for the pro-democracy movement in Burma since the party’s formation in September 1988.

The winds of change that Aung San Suu Kyi has ushered in came after she earlier requested, via a letter to the ruling junta, a meeting with party elders. She also requested a cross-party meeting and talks with the junta’s senior general, Than Shwe.

The talks were also hailed by the US, which has been urging for dialogue between the junta and opposition parties.

"We hope this is a step towards a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and the entire central executive committee of the National League for Democracy," US state department spokesperson, Ian Kelly said.

Win Tin said that it signifies both a fresh approach from the NLD, and a sign that “if the junta agrees to her meeting with the party elders, she may be able to meet with Than Shwe. It can result in dialogue”.

The top echelons of the NLD are all in their senior years. At the meeting on Monday, at which Suu Kyi proposed the reform, were 92-year-old U Aung Shwe, 85-year-old U Lwin and U Lun Tin, who is 89.

“They are more than 80 years old. The NLD already has the idea of expanding and reforming by giving young people places so that future activities could be carried out,” said NLD spokesperson Khin Maung Shwe.

U Win Tin continued that “the junta should do the same thing to bring innovation to Burmese politics. If the junta has the same spirit of renovation, of course we will have new ideas and new thinking to work for the country”.

With the 2010 elections looming, and as yet little indication of the future of Burmese politics, Win Tin said that regardless of who takes power, “they must have some new ideas of how to tackle the problems of Burma and problems of Burmese society”.

He conceded that many will be troubled by Suu Kyi’s conciliatory tone, but the positivity displayed by the party on the eve of elections will encourage hope both in Burma and abroad that dialogue and change are possible.

“She is quite willing to work with the junta and some people are quite surprised; they don’t like the idea of co-operation,” he said.

What has changed recently in the minds of western governments has been the line that should be taken with the errant generals at the top of Burma’s political pile, one of engagement instead of isolation.

Athough the fresh approach from the international community, coupled with developments within the NLD, have been met with enthusiasm, Khin Maung Shwe said however that “when welcoming this, we have to do it with great caution.”

Whilst many of the senior NLD members will move aside to allow fresh blood into the party leadership, Win Tin was in no doubt about the ultimate leader of the party.

“She is a wonderful girl, really. She is always very enthusiastic; she is working all the time, even alone in her house she is working very hard, more than 10 to 15 hours a day. That letter is proof,” he said.

“She is retiring the older generation, she is not just paying respects,” he said, adding that “she has got the ideas and she is well enough in health”.