Monks Mark Uprising with Ceremonies, Protests

By Zarni Mann 27 September 2012

Buddhist monks in Burma and in exile vowed on Wednesday to continue pushing the Burmese authorities to apologize for a crackdown on massive protests five years ago and to release all monks still behind bars.

At ceremonies in Rangoon and Mandalay to mark the anniversary of the crushing of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, monks and their supporters called on Burma’s new military-backed government to redress injustices committed by the former junta against members of the Buddhist clergy.

“Most of us will continue our boycott until we get their apology,” said Ashin Thawbita, the spokesperson for the organizing committee behind a ceremony at Mandalay’s Myawaddy Mingyi Monastery.

The boycott—a form of excommunication that involves refusing offerings of alms from those who have committed offenses against the Sangha, or community of monks—was part of the September 2007 uprising, which came after earlier protests over dramatic fuel price hikes in August were brutally suppressed.

However, Ashin Thawbita emphasized that the gathering in Mandalay, which was attended by more than 1,000 monks, was aimed at creating a network to work together for peace, religious affairs and children’s education, not reviving the 2007 uprising.

“We are trying our best not to allow another Saffron Revolution to happen,” he said.

More than 300 monks and activists held a similar event at Magwe Monastery in Rangoon’s East Dagon Township on the same day.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, exiled Burmese monks and activists marched down the city’s Janta Manta Road calling for the release of imprisoned monks and other political prisoners.

“We will never forget this day or our fellow monks who are still behind bars. We want the government to release them and all other political prisoners as soon as possible without any conditions,” said Ashin Pannajota, who is based in the Indian capital.

Some of the protesters also held signs calling for an end to ethnic conflict in Burma.

“Enough is enough. If President Thein Sein’s government really wants democracy, the civil war must stop. Both sides must resolve their differences through dialogue,” said Ashin Pannajota.

The Saffron Revolution started on Sept. 5 with a small protest by monks in Pakokku, Magway Division, who were later beaten by local police. This sparked nationwide protests that grew to the hundreds of thousands at their peak.

The protests, which were the largest the country had seen in more than two decades, ended when security forces cracked down on Sept. 26, killing at least 31 people and raiding monasteries to arrest hundreds of monks.

Among the casualties was Japanese reporter Kenji Nagai, who was shot at point blank range as soldiers charged unarmed protesters.