Three activists will face charges after leading a peaceful but unauthorized march through Rangoon on Thursday to mark the anniversary of Burma’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising.
The activists told The Irrawaddy that police from the townships of Kyauktada, Pabaetan and Lathar would take action under Article 18 of the Assembly and Procession bylaw, which prohibits the staging of public gatherings without official permission.
A police officer from the Kyauktada police confirmed to The Irrawaddy by phone that charges would be pressed. “We are preparing to take action against them. We told them already yesterday that we would take action against them. However, we are not ready yet to say exactly when we will bring them to court.”
Human rights and democracy activists in Rangoon and Mandalay held commemorations on Thursday, marking the anniversary of the 1988 uprising that was violently crushed by Burma’s former military regime. Small ceremonies were also held in several other states to honor those who paid for their democratic activism with their lives. Though most of the events were held with proper permits, organizers of the march through Rangoon did not seek official permission.
The three activists facing charges allegedly led Thursday’s illegal gathering, in which at least 200 people marched through four townships in Rangoon to honor students killed during the uprising. Win Cho, Phyu Phyu Win and Aung Tun, who are all former political prisoners, will be charged with organizing an unauthorized protest in three of the four townships they marched through.
The activists said police had made phone calls asking them to come to their offices after the march concluded at Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon. The activists said they were not surprised at the charges, which remain on the books from the days of the former military regime and are still used to prosecute unauthorized demonstrations.
“They called me by phone to come to the office after we ended our peaceful march,” said Win Cho. “We are not above the law. They are the people who wield the law. We have to face what they are going to charge us with.”
He said that if the organizers had sought permission from police to hold the march, it would have taken five days’ time, with no guarantee that the demonstration would ultimately receive approval.
Phyu Phyu Win said she was told that she would be made to answer for her previous activism as well.
“We went to the police station in Kyauktada and they told us to sign a paper because they were going to charge us. The police told me that they will file more charges against me as I have already been accused of crimes involving the case of mining in Letpadaung.
“They told us that they are going to take action against us because we did not ask permission from them for the street protest. For our part, we told them the reason we did not seek permission is that even U Aung Min [the government’s lead peace negotiator], who attended the silver jubilee, acknowledged the uprising. This is why we did not seek permission,” said Phyu Phyu Win.
“Our protest walk in the streets was only intended to remember people who were killed during the uprising,” she continued. “They [the government] claim they are democratic. We did our peaceful protest as we wanted to honor those who sacrificed their lives during the uprising. We are ready to face these charges.”
The activists have signed a pledge guaranteeing that they will appear before a judge if called upon, according to Phyu Phyu Win.
The charges are a blotch on a day that was otherwise lauded by many as an indicator that the government was increasingly willing to acknowledge human rights abuses perpetrated by the former military regime. The main commemoration ceremony in north Rangoon received a permit and was even attended by some government ministers.
Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Burma, issued a statement on Thursday honoring the fallen.
“On this day, 25 years ago, brave citizens marched in the street, to call for an end to authoritarian rule and to urge the beginning of democratic change. For that, they were met with guns. As we reflect on what happened that day, we honor those who gave their lives by vowing to never forget their sacrifice, and by cherishing the values embodied by the 1988 movement: freedom, democracy, justice, and human rights for all people.”