Rangoon Authorities Ban Press Conference on Burma Army Torture

By Lawi Weng 27 June 2016

RANGOON — The Rangoon division government has forced the cancellation of a press conference organized for Monday by the Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO) for the launch of a report on human rights abuses by the Burma Army in northern Shan State, according to the TWO.

The TWO is drawn from the Ta’ang ethnic minority, also known as the Palaung, who are concentrated in northern Shan State. In recent months this area has seen fighting between a Ta’ang ethnic armed group, The Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Burma Army along with a Shan ethnic armed group, the Shan State Army-South. The conflict has displaced several thousand people, and all three armies have been accused of rights violations, including abducting, torturing and murdering civilians.

The TWO has issued a statement saying this was the second time in the course of a week that they had been forced to cancel a press conference in Rangoon, after local authorities instructed hotels not to let them hold one. The first instance was on Friday at the Orchid Hotel. Monday’s conference was to be held at the Excel Treasure Hotel.

TWO Joint Secretary De De Poe Jaing told the Irrawaddy, “An Orchid Hotel staff member told us that the Rangoon Division government did not allow them to do it. Then, the manager from Excel said the hotel needed ‘permission’ to hold a conference.”

“We had agreed already with the hotel [Excel] that, if the police came, we would deal with it. But, the hotel manager called me back and told me that we could not hold the press conference,” said De De Poe Jaing.

De De Poe Jaing said both hotels had been under pressure from the authorities—the Excel hotel even said Special Branch, a plain-clothed branch of the police that relies on a network of local informers, had come to the hotel and told them not to allow the conference.

TWO’s new report, entitled “Trained to Torture,” compiles accounts from ethnic Palaung victims of torture by the Burma Army from 2012-2016.

“We collected data about rights abuses and have accused the Burma Army of torturing local people [in Shan State] over the course of five years. The report has targeted the Burma Army directly. This could be why they did not let us hold the press conference,” De De Poe Jaing said.

TWO said in their statement after the cancellation that there should be no restrictions on freedom of expression and information as the country undergoes political reforms, and people should have the right to report on and expose human rights abuses.

“These reforms have been unable to touch the Burma Army. We feel the Burma Army still has influence over government,” she said.

“We feel now that the new government is no better than the former government, and may be even worse,” she added, suggesting that they would have been able to hold the press conference in Rangoon under the previous administration.