Heated Rhetoric at Koh Tao Verdict Protest in Rangoon

By Lawi Weng 29 December 2015

RANGOON — Around 500 protesters, including monks from Buddhist nationalist organization Ma Ba Tha, gathered in Rangoon on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the death sentence handed down to two Burmese migrants by a Thai court last week.

Protests in Rangoon have been ongoing since Friday, the day after a Koh Samui Court sentenced migrants Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo to death for the killing of two British backpackers, David Miller and Hannah Witheridge, on Koh Tao in September 2014.

Tuesday’s event, held at a football stadium in Thaketa Township, opened with a nationalist song, with lyrics that referenced the country’s sovereignty and freedom, before a senior Ma Ba Tha figure, U Pamaukka, addressed protesters.

The monk denied the well-known Buddhist nationalist group organized the demonstration, claiming those gathered were simply patriots who had come together to fight for justice in the case of the two accused Burmese men.

“We are here today to condemn the injustice of the Thai court. Firstly, I want to say we condemn the court’s decision,” he said.

“The Thai Prime Minister spoke at a press conference yesterday and mentioned that our country asked to review the case. But he told the press conference that his government could not do this. For us, we condemn his speech.”

Many attendees on Tuesday held photographs of the two detained Burmese men, banners of support or pictures of Thailand’s revered king.

U Pamaukka’s speech also contained the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has often been synonymous with Ma Ba Tha rallies.

“Our country has an army. And our army do not wear skirts,” he said. “I want to say to the Thai Prime Minister, don’t touch a finger on our two citizens.”

The monk flagged a boycott of Thai goods if justice was not served and waded into increasingly nationalistic territory, referencing the need for a robust military to uphold the country’s interests.

“If needed, I will disrobe to join the army for my country and my people,” he said.

U Pamaukka said his group would see how Thailand responds and, if there were few signs of progress, may protest again early in the new year.

Nay Myo Wai, chairman of the nationalist Peace and Diversity Party, also spoke at the event.

“We are Buddhist. We hate those who are rapists. But we have doubts about Thai justice and we are here today because we want to fight for justice, real justice,” he said.

“We even have questions for the British Embassy in Rangoon. Why are they quiet about this case? They should speak out about the case. We are worried the Thai mafia who really committed the crime have escaped, while our two citizens who are innocent have to serve the punishment.”

A young protester who was at the demonstration was accused of interrupting a speech and bundled away by members of the Ma Ba Tha. The group’s members demanded local media not take photographs as they grabbed the youth.

After Tuesday’s rally at the stadium, which lasted around 2 hours, protesters made their way to the Thai Embassy on Pyay Road to continue demonstrations.

The Thai Embassy in Rangoon on Friday issued a notification warning Thai citizens to take precautions in Burma and avoid identifying as Thai nationals if not necessary. The embassy has shut down its consular section until Wednesday while protests are ongoing.