Yangon – Mandalay Region’s chief minister banished Special Branch (SB) officers from his Sunday press conference, showing even a senior member of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government is still prone to be watched by military-controlled intelligence like under the military dictatorship.
Some SB members attended the press conference along with journalists while the chief minister, Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, who is also vice-president of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was meeting the media after the Martyrs’ Day commemoration on July 19.
In a video that has been widely shared online, the chief minister tells SB officers to leave the room after he noticed they are not journalists.
“Get out of here. This is none of your business,” said Dr. Zaw Myint Maung.
While being watched by the military-controlled SB during his press conference, he said the surveillance was unacceptable and officers should follow a code of conduct.
Politicians and activists were jailed after SB probes produced controversial, anti-government charges under the military dictatorship from 1988 to 2010. NLD members, including Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, were no exception.
The SB used to be a department of Myanmar’s police, collecting information and arresting dissenters after the powerful military intelligence network – headed by Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt – was dissolved in 2004.
In February 2015, the Home Affairs Minister, Lieutenant General Ko Ko, took the SB under direct ministerial control.
Currently, the military-controlled ministry is led by the former chief of military security affairs, Lieutenant General Soe Htut. He was approved as home affairs minister in February, replacing outgoing Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe.
According to politicians and activists, the activities of rights organizations are monitored by the SB and other units backed by the police and military.
Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung of Athan, a group advocating freedom of expression, told The Irrawaddy that the organization’s training sessions and public events have been watched by the SB.
He said the SB used to take records of groups’ activities and lists of participants.
“In the 21st century, privacy is a human right. Rights must be protected by the government. There are many cases where people’s freedoms are undermined by the government and military,” said Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung.
Ko Zaw Moe, the chief researcher at the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that units like the SB should be used to investigate security issues and other cases to protect citizens instead of shadowing innocent people.
“Old procedures of shadowing are still being used. Rights groups are annoyed by the surveillance. People are concerned that information might become a threat in the future because they are being watched,” said Ko Zaw Moe.
The Ministry of Home Affairs could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
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