11 Years On, Monk Protesters Still Await an Apology for Brutal Public Beatings

By Zarni Mann 25 September 2018

MANDALAY — On Tuesday, Buddhist monks of Mandalay and their supporters who participated in the Saffron Revolution in September 2007, commemorated the 11-year anniversary of the event.

Though 11 years have passed, Buddhist monks and laypersons who participated in the uprising say they still feel there is a lack of peace, rule of law and democracy in the country.

“Although there have been many changes and developments in the political situation over 11 years, we still feel there is a lack of peace, rule of law and democracy, because the 2008 Constitution does not give full power to the [civilian] government,” said U Seindita, a monk from Pakokku who participated in the protests in 2007.

“If we cannot amend the Constitution, there will be no peace or development in politics and this could affect the development of the country,” he added.

In August 2007, under the military regime, a sudden increase in the price of commodities brought about by a hike in fuel prices which sparked a series of protests resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of about a dozen activists.

Prominent activists U Min Ko Naing, U Min Zeya, U Ko Ko Gyi, U Arnt Bwe Kyaw, U Mya Aye, Daw Nilar Thein, Daw Mee Mee and U Htin Kyaw were among those placed under arrest and later accused by the military government of being the leaders who fanned the unrest.

On Sept. 5 that year, in Pakokku Township, Magwe Division, Buddhists monks marched along the main streets of the city of Pakokku, chanting prayers and urging the military government to release the detained activists and to handle the spike in commodity prices.

A brutal crackdown followed in which three Buddhist monks participating in the march were tied to lamp-posts and beaten by soldiers, causing rage among Buddhist monks across the country.

The following day, when local government officials came to a monastery to urge the monks to end the protest, they were taken hostage and their vehicle burnt down.

As the situation between the monks and government officials became more hostile, the monks demanded an apology for the beating of their three counterparts, naming Sept. 17 as the deadline.

On Sept. 22, as an apology had still not been issued, hundreds of monks in Yangon took to the streets in a peaceful march. They were joined by those from Mandalay and other cities as well Buddhist nuns and laypeople.

After four days of peaceful protests, on Sept. 26 the military government launched a brutal crackdown on those gathered in Yangon with riot police and soldiers opening fire on the crowds, shooting tear gas and beating up protesters.

The crackdown continued the next day with raids of monasteries across Yangon during which dozens of Buddhist monks were reportedly arrested, de-robed and detained.

More than 200 Buddhist monks and 500 activists and protestors across the country were arrested and put behind bars in the following days.

Although all of the detained were released following the swearing in of Gen. U Thein Sein as president in 2011, most of the Buddhists monks were not allowed to return their monasteries.

“There are many monks who still cannot return to their original monasteries and are being rejected for being activists. Some have to stay at their friends’ monasteries and this limits their abilities to study the Buddhist scriptures,” said U Arsariya, another Buddhist monk who participated the protest.

Meanwhile, the monks who participated in the uprising 11 years ago are still waiting for the military to apologize for what was done to their fellow monks.

“We are still disappointed with the military government of that time who acted inhumanly and still fail to make an apology. We are still boycotting them by not accepting donations or offerings from them,” said U Arsariya.