Organizers Vow to Hold 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day Event Despite Myanmar Police Warning

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 11 August 2020

YANGON—The 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day commemoration will be held in central Yangon on Wednesday in accordance with COVID-19 prevention guidelines, despite not being approved by township authorities, according to the event’s organizers.

The death of Karen revolutionary leader Saw Ba U Gyi, who was murdered on Aug. 12, 1950, is commemorated annually as Karen Martyrs’ Day.

Authorities in Yangon’s Kyauktada Township have declined to approve the event, citing COVID-19 restrictions under which mass gatherings are banned until Aug. 15 in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

However, Karen activist Ko Sa Thein Zaw Min, one of the event organizers, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that he and the other organizers would definitely proceed with their plans to hold the commemoration, because it is the 70th annual Karen Martyrs’ Day.

He said they would scale down the ceremony to make sure it is in compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines.

Groups of not more than 15 people at a time will be allowed to pay respects to the Karen Martyrs in central Yangon near Maha Bandula Park, according to the event organizers.

Ko Sa Thein Zaw Min said no individual invitations to the event had been sent. However, all attendees will be provided with hand gel and masks to satisfy the COVID-19 guidelines.

Prominent Karen activist Naw Ohn Hla, another event organizer, said that a march would not be held as part of this year’s event due to the pandemic.

However, Kyauktada Township police told The Irrawaddy that the event would not be permitted.

Police Colonel Myo Thet, chief of the Kyauktada Police Force, suggested the event organizers postpone their commemoration.

“If they violate any COVID-19 restrictions, we will sue them under the Communicable Disease Law” the police colonel said.

Last year, three Karen activists—Sa Thein Zaw Min, Saw Elbert Cho and Naw Ohn Hla—were sentenced to 15 days in prison after being held in jail for more than two weeks for holding an unlawful gathering to mark the 69th Karen Martyrs’ Day, which drew more than 300 of people.

The three activists were charged in September 2019 for not complying with an order to delete the word “martyr” from references to the commemoration.

Separately, three supporters of the convicted Karen activists were sued by the Kyauktada Police Force under the Unlawful Assembly Law for organizing a protest outside a courthouse in Yangon in October 2019.

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