MANDALAY – A senior member of the Karen National Union ethnic armed group and four other organizers are being sued for holding the 68th Karen Martyrs’ Day in Hinthada Township, Ayeyarwady Division, on Sunday.
The organizers held the ceremony, ignoring instructions from the local authorities to remove a backdrop with Karen text displayed and proceeding to make a speech on the history of the martyrs which authorities had also forbidden. Authorities are suing the organizers saying that permission for the event was not sought.
Pado Mahn Nyein Maung, senior member of the KNU said he and the four other local organizers received a notice, signed by the Hinthada Township administration officer, to present to themselves to their office, and face a law suit for organizing the ceremony without permission.
“Me, Saw Kyaw Oo and the others visited their office this morning and we were told that we have to face a law suit for holding the ceremony without permission,” Pado Mahn Nyein Maung told The Irrawaddy.
Pado Mahn Nyein Maung said the authorities told them they could not to hold the ceremony unless the backdrop was removed and the speech about the history of the Karen martyrs as not given.
“I am very disappointed with this. The authorities want us to go behind bars for being a part of this ceremony, and they do not want the Karen people to know more about their history. This is really bad and if they continue oppressing the ethnic people, there will be no peace in the country for sure,” he said.
Organizers claim there were security personnel and police waiting at the venue threatening to stop the ceremony forcibly from Saturday evening. After Pado Mahn Nyein Maung and other leaders talked with the administration officer, they withdraw. However, while the ceremony was taking place as scheduled on Sunday, the organizers received notification of the lawsuit.
“The actions of the local authorities as well as the chief minister of Ayeyarwady Division is insulting the Karen people,” said Pado Mahn Nyein Maung.
“This incident shows that the ongoing peace process is just a show, which will never reach its goal since there’s no respect for the ethnic people and their history, culture and dignity,” he added.
Pado Mahn Nyein Maung said the central government also needs to review their actions in which they restricted the Karen Martyrs’ Day ceremonies in other cities such as Yangon and Be Ga Yet Village in Kangyidaunt Township, which is the birthplace of one of the Karen martyrs Saw Ba U Gyi as well as Myaungmya, Einmae and Pantanaw Townships in Ayeyarwaddy Division.
In Yangon, the ceremony was given permission to be held in St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Insein Township following negotiations between the authorities and Karen Affair Minister Naw Pan Thinzar Myo. Using the word ‘martyr,’ however was forbidden.
As in other cities, the speech about the history of the Karen martyrs was forbidden at the Yangon ceremony. Photos of Saw Ba U Gyi and other Karen leaders also had to be removed from the venue.
In KNU-controlled areas in Karen State, the commemoration ceremonies were only given permission following negotiations between KNU leaders and Karen State’s Security and Border Affairs Minister.
“The State Counselor will participate in the wrist-tying ceremony in Yangon soon as an act of unity, but such actions will be go in vain if there’s no respect for the ethnic peoples’ dignity, their martyrs and their historical events,” said Pado Mahn Nyein Maung.
“And though there are many ethnic cultural celebrations which the government are participating in, these actions on our Karen Martyrs day clearly highlight that those are the just a show of the government which is taking opportunities to show they are working on reconciliation,” he added.