- Peace Strategy Needed to Achieve National Goals, Suu Kyi Says
- Govt Under Fire For Fatal Electrocution of Yangon Boy
- Yangon Chief Minister Slammed for Accepting Donation to City from Accused Fraudster
- Anti-Graft Panel Files Charges Against 12 Customs Officials
- Hundreds Flee Fighting Between Rival Ethnic Groups in Namtu
- Historic ’88 Uprising Photos on Display 30 Years Later
- At Least 20 Prospectors Killed in Lone Khin Slag Heap Collapse
- The New Yangon City Project: An Urban Planner’s View
- Jailed Reuters Journalists to Testify in Myanmar Court
- Wild Boars in Tears After Being Told of Samarn’s Death
- Reuters Charges Expose Military’s Power Over Courts
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 08:14 AM PDT
NAYPYITAW — A peace strategy is required in order to achieve all parties' common goals for Myanmar, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in her closing address to the third session of the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference on Monday.
"We need a peace strategy to implement our common goals for the future. Based on this strategy, we need to adjust the political dialogue framework," she said.
She said the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) had already formed working committees tasked with implementing this strategy, adding that it needed to start work urgently.
The six-day conference ended on Monday with the signing of agreements under Part Two of the Union Accord. These agreements included 14 more principles that were discussed and approved by the UPDJC on Sunday. In May last year, 37 basic principles were approved in Part One of the Union Accord.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairperson of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), thanked the 700 delegates attending the conference for putting their efforts into debating and reaching agreement on the 14 basic principles. Of these, four were in the political sector, one economic, seven social, and two involved land. No agreement has yet been reached on the security sector, she said.
However, some of the delegates told The Irrawaddy they were disappointed with the results.
In the political sector, which was mainly limited to gender equality issues, they were disappointed with the wording, "to encourage the participation of at least 30 percent of women in every sector."
"I am concerned by this; instead of 'encouraging' it should be a specific policy to help enhance [the participation of] women and to guarantee that women are freed from any forms of discrimination," said Naw Hel Lay Phaw, a Karen National Union delegate.
She told The Irrawaddy that there was dissatisfaction over having just two principles in the land sector, adding that many of the demands the ethnic people made were left out during the various stages of the negotiations.
The delegates can only suggest opinions on the UPDJC's already-agreed texts. However, the UPDJC did not make any changes based on these suggestions and on Sunday approved the principles as proposed.
The government plans to convene the UPC every six months. It repeated in its statement on Monday that it plans to hold three more conferences: one later this year and two in 2019. The State Counselor acknowledged that disagreements had resulted in almost a year passing between the two most recent conferences.
She said the "results" of the recent conference were obtained after many negotiations — and the facing of many challenges and disagreements. Thus, she said, the peace process was moving forward.
The number of principles agreed may be less than in the previous sessions, "but we have been able to move the political dialogue process forward," she said, because the negotiations were made through everyone's efforts and mutual trust.
"Our conference is not stopping, it is not reversing; it is moving forward with great difficulty," added the State Counselor.
During the third session of the conference, ethnic armed organizations that have not yet signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement joined the conference at the government's invitation.
The leaders of an alliance of northern- and northeastern-based ethnic organizations — the United Wa State Army; the Kachin Independence Army; the Mongla's National Democratic Alliance Army; the Shan State Progressive Party; the Kokang's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army; the Arakan Army; and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army — observed the conference and separately met the State Counselor and the commander-in-chief of the military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, last week.
The State Counselor added that the northeast-based armed organizations' agreeing to come to Naypyitaw and attend meetings was "one of the good results of this third session of the UPC."
"During these meetings, we discussed openly and warmly, and we are all happy because there is great potential for them to participate in the peace process," she said.
The post Peace Strategy Needed to Achieve National Goals, Suu Kyi Says appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 07:10 AM PDT
YANGON — The death of a 13-year-old boy by electrocution in Yangon has prompted calls for accountability and safety measures in the city to prevent similar incidents from recurring.
Maung Myo Min Tun, also known as Pouk Soh, from Yangon's South Okkalapa Township, died on Friday evening after stepping on a fallen wire lying in a pool of water along Thanthumar Road while walking with his friend near his home.
Daw Thit Thit Myint, a regional lawmaker from South Okkalapa Township, said neighbors phoned the township electricity department about the fallen wire earlier that afternoon, but the department failed to fix it in time.
"It is because of their negligence, not because the boy was unfortunate. The boy died because they didn't cut the power and fix it," she said.
Photos of the body lying face down in the pool next to the busy road and CCTV footage of the incident from a nearby house were posted online and sparked outrage from some netizens.
Ko Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer, wrote on his page that the authorities must do more than cover the family’s funeral expenses and take responsibility for the incident.
Some social media users have also started an online campaign demanding accountability by changing their profile pictures to an illustration of the dead boy lying face down in the pool of water with the caption, “Sorry mom, I can’t come back home today.”
Daw Thit Thit Myint said Yangon Region Electricity Minister Daw Nilar Kyaw visited the family on Sunday ahead of the funeral. She said the minister acknowledged the department’s negligence and expressed her sorrow for the loss.
According to Daw Thit Thit Myint, the minister also said that authorities were forming an ad hoc committee to investigate the incident starting Monday.
She said Yangon Region lacked the budget to repair and adequately maintain all the city’s power lines.
"Maintenance is not needed only in Yangon but in other cities as well. We already asked about that in Parliament, and the answer we got is that they don’t have enough funds,” she said, adding that she would continue to press the issue.
Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, a former Yangon Region lawmaker, said the Union Ministry of Electricity and Energy must allocate enough funds for the city to fix its broken power lines as a matter of public safety.
She said the regional government should not complain about lacking funds to fix broken wires when it was planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a few new vehicles.
Daw Aye Aye Myint, the dead boy’s mother, told The Irrawaddy that her only hope was that no other child suffer the same fate.
"I have lost my son. They promised they won't be careless next time,” she said. “I hope they are not.”
The post Govt Under Fire For Fatal Electrocution of Yangon Boy appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 06:49 AM PDT
YANGON — Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein's decision to accept of a 20-million-kyat donation to the city by accused Malaysian fraudster Ong Kean Swan has drawn a strong negative reaction on social media.
Ong, a Malaysian who also goes by Peter Ong, is an accused fraudster, self-styled backer of professional gamblers and the CEO of a multilevel marketing (MLM) company and that has been blacklisted in Taiwan, Malaysia and China.
On Saturday, the Yangon Regional Government's official Facebook account said Ong's family donated money to assist the government's social work, and posted nine photos including one of the chief minister presenting Ong with a certificate of honor
"It is encouraging bad people. That is not acceptable for the head of the [Yangon] government. Actually, it is easy to check a person's background in the media. Before accepting the money, they should have checked [Ong's] background," said Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, a former Yangon Regional Parliament lawmaker.
"The government should not accept 'black money.' It is a small amount of money but definitely ruins the government's image," she told The Irrawaddy.
Many people commented under the photos, some pasting screenshots with information about the donor's background including lawsuits filed against him in Singapore and Malaysia. People advised the Yangon government to conduct serious background checks before accepting donations from external donors.
"If they don't know where the money comes from, it's better not to accept it. If it is black money, it could implicate [the government] in money laundering," said U Tint Zaw Hein, a Magway Region Youth Network adviser.
In Myanmar, multi-level marketing companies have a bad reputation due to a number of cases in which people claim to have been defrauded.
The Myanmar President's Office and the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered the Bureau of Special Investigation (BSI) to investigate MLM companies in Myanmar after receiving reports of fraud from the public. The BSI announced in January that MLM companies take advantage of investors and that it was investigating those currently operating in the country.
According to international media reports, Ong is CEO of the MLM company Dream Success International Sdn Bhd and the Surewin4u corporate website.
Dream Success International claims to sell health and beauty products. Surewin4u is a corporate website run by Dream Success International that promises investors monthly returns plus bonuses from backing "expert gamblers" who play in casinos. The company claims investors have a 99 percent of chance of making money, according to Ong's website.
According to Malaysian and Taiwanese reports, in 2013 Dream Success International and the website www.Surewin4u.com were blacklisted by the Central Bank of Malaysia (Bank Negara Malaysia) after they were found to be engaging in unlicensed activities. In 2014, the Taiwanese government shut down Dream Success International's operations there for allegedly defrauding thousands of investors out of millions of dollars.
In 2015, Dream Winners and Surewin4u became the focus of negative media reports for operating a multi-level pyramid scam in Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and China.
According to a report published in The Straits Times on Oct. 21, 2017, a suit filed with Singapore's High Court claimed that around 150 people in Singapore lost 50 million Singapore dollars (about 53 billion kyats) after investing in Surewin4u
Citing court documents, The Straits Times reported that Ong had not been heard from in Singapore since 2014, when the website went dark, leaving investors empty-handed.
A victim filed a lawsuit against Surewin4u for fraud and losing investment. Two representatives from Surewin4u facing at court.
In 2017, a suit was filed in a Singapore court by a plaintiff alleging the loss of their investment to fraud. Two Surewin4u representatives faced the court, as Ong had fled the country.
In September of that year, the Myanmar Ministry of Home Affairs announced that it was investigating four MLMs about which it had received complaints from the public. A Malaysian-owned MLM company reportedly defrauded Myanmar investors of over USD1 million in that year.
Many critics have urged the government to pass a law regulating MLM companies in Myanmar.
"When the government accepts money from a multi-level marketing scammer, it means they accept the MLM system," U Tint Zaw Hein said.
"The government should not even be meeting these people. Accepting donations goes too far," he added.
The post Yangon Chief Minister Slammed for Accepting Donation to City from Accused Fraudster appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 06:40 AM PDT
Yangon—The Myanmar Anti-Corruption Commission has filed complaints with the police against 12 officers including three directors of the Customs Department for alleged bribe-taking related to the importation of delivery vans.
The anti-graft body announced on Monday that it had launched an investigation after receiving complaints against customs officials at Yangon Port who had allegedly demanded money from importers to allow for the clearance of the vans.
In addition, the customs officials allegedly took bribes from importers and allowed into the country certain types of vehicles that are banned by the government automobile import supervision committee.
The investigation found that seven customs officials involved in several stages of customs clearance for imported vehicles had received bribes totalling nearly 9 million kyats (USD6,300) for the shipment of five delivery vans.
Moreover, the commission found three directors, a deputy director and another staff officer, assisted or cooperated in the corruption.
The commission on Monday filed complaints with Thilawa Police Station in Yangon's Kyauktan Township against seven customs officials under Section 56 of the Anti-Corruption Law, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment.
It also lodged a complaint against five others under Section 63 of the same law, accusing them of aiding and abetting corruption.
The Customs Department is overseen by the Ministry of Planning and Finance. In May, Finance Minister U Kyaw Win resigned amid a separate corruption scandal.
The Anti-Corruption Law was enacted in 2013 under the previous military-backed government. But it was rarely enforced until Myanmar's new President U Win Myint came to power in March this year. In his inaugural speech, he vowed to crack down on corruption and the illegal drug trade, and to reform the country's weak judicial system. The Anti-Corruption Commission was the first organization he met after his inauguration.
Since then the anti-graft body has been active launching a string of investigations. Its most high profile cases include probing former finance minister U Kyaw Win and the director-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for corruption.
Before the latest complaint by the ACC, the country’s President's Office ordered the Ministry of Finance and Planning in May to launch an internal investigation into a department director who allegedly encouraged his staff to take bribes.
The post Anti-Graft Panel Files Charges Against 12 Customs Officials appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 05:50 AM PDT
Hundreds of local villagers fled their homes in Namtu Township, northern Shan State, after fighting broke out this morning between troops of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), and a joint force of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), according to local sources.
Nang Sam Howm, a Shan State lawmaker from Namtu Township, told The Irrawaddy that the clashes had caused over 400 local people to abandon their villages.
"The fighting broke out at 8 am. And we could still hear the sounds of shooting up until now (4 pm, local time)," she said, adding that she was unsure exactly how many villagers had been displaced.
"A lot of people fled. But, we still need to go out and rescue them so we do not have an exact number yet," she said.
There are currently about 1,000 villagers living in a makeshift IDP camp in Namtu as a result of fighting in recent years. Many of the villagers who fled today sought sanctuary in a Shan Buddhist monastery.
Tai Freedom, a media outlet operated by the RCSS, claimed the TNLA and SSPP launched a coordinated attack against RCSS positions.
"They launched a pre-meditated attack against our troops," Tai Freedom said.
The RCSS media outlet recently reported that the Northern Alliance, which includes the TNLA, SSPP, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and United Wa State Army (UWSA), had been conducting joint military exercises in the Namtu area. But the SSPP issued a statement last week denying the report.
The RCSS said it had withdrawn its troops on four occasions to avoid clashes with Northern Alliance armies, but the joint TNLA and SSPP force pursued and attacked the RCSS units, according to a Tai Freedom report.
The Irrawaddy tried to get details about the fighting from the RCSS and TNLA, but they both declined to comment.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sai Oo, a spokesperson for the RCSS, confirmed that fighting had broken out with the TNLA and SSPP, but he declined to provide any further details.
There are several ethnic armed groups active in Namtu Township, which is a key crossroads between several ethnic townships.
The TNLA, SSPP, KIA, and RCSS are the main armed groups active in the area. According to the TNLA, the RCSS expanded its area of control with help from the Myanmar Army after signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, which caused clashes with the other armed groups.
The post Hundreds Flee Fighting Between Rival Ethnic Groups in Namtu appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 03:09 AM PDT
YANGON — Almost 30 years later, the immensity of the crowd he saw still excites him.
On the morning of Aug. 26, 1988, Htein Win picked up a camera that he had borrowed from a friend and headed to the western gate of Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda, where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi began her decade-long campaign against the Burmese military regime by addressing the people and stating that "the entire public entertains the keenest desire for a multi-party democratic system of government."
"Whenever I think about it, the thing that pops into my mind is the sea of people," Htein Win recalled recently.
Mesmerized by the number of people, he knew he had to do something. Shortly before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's arrival, he climbed onstage and captured the scene with his camera. When she delivered her speech, he clicked the shutter again. Three decades later, both pictures—throngs of people filling the pagoda's compound as far as the eye can see and the then 43-year-old Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivering her speech with students standing guard in the front row—are still some of his favorites.
"I feel that I was able to document some important moments in Myanmar's history," the photographer explained.
Apart from capturing the democracy icon's political debut, Htein Win, 72, is also one of the few local photographers who documented the popular uprising in 1988 from July until the military's takeover in September.
Out of several hundred pictures that he took at the time—left untouched for more than two decades due to government censorship of all printed materials—he will showcase 100 pictures for the first time at the photo exhibition "8888 The Uprising" in Yangon next month when the uprising turns 30. Some of the pictures have circulated online, but this will be the first exhibition in Myanmar in which they are featured.
Named after a nationwide protest against then Ne Win's single-party dictatorship on Aug. 8, 1988, the 8888 Uprising was a major shift in modern history in Myanmar. Political analysts at home and abroad agree that despite its end in a bloody military coup, it raised the people's political awareness that paved the way for changes that brought the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy to power 28 years later.
Htein Win followed the protests as they gathered momentum while people from every walk of life joined the rallies across Yangon.
"At first, I was reluctant because I thought I might be arrested. But given the intensity of the protests and everyone's participation, I no longer cared about the punishment," he said.
From July to September 18, the day the military staged a coup, he wandered around the streets of Yangon with a camera in hand from morning to dusk. As a result, he was able to take pictures of protests attended by not only students also but actors, actresses, journalists, monks, writers and even soldiers.
He said he covered the protests because he noticed that they were significant, as they were attracting more public participation and becoming a popular uprising.
"In the past, we had some protests by students and workers for their rights. But the '88 ones were more unusual. Nearly everyone joined in and they had one message: Democracy," he explained.
Apart from the '88 Uprising, Htein Win was able to capture another important moment in history. When the government cracked down on a student demonstration calling for a state funeral for the late UN Secretary General U Thant in December 1974, he was at Yangon University campus to witness the violence and shoot some pictures. Those images saw the light of day 40 years later in 2014 when Myanmar no longer practiced pre-publication censorship.
As for the '88 Uprising, he says he doesn't have any photos of the military's bloody crackdown on protesters following the coup. When he heard the takeover announcement on the afternoon of Sept. 18, he knew trouble was on the way. The first thing he had to do was hide several hundreds of negatives taken over months because if he were caught with them, he would face prison and possibly torture. He asked some of his friends to hide some of the negatives but they were too afraid, as the military cracked down on many people on suspicion of involvement in the uprising.
"Some burned the negatives or threw them away," the photographer recalled with an air of sorrow.
It was a fate that other people who covered the uprising faced as well. As a videographer, U Sonny Nyein documented the protests as Htein Win did. His footage included Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's first public speech at Yangon General Hospital on August 24. Most of his videotapes were damaged by the wear and tear of time while being kept in secrecy.
"Most people who covered the uprising destroyed their negatives as they were afraid of retribution. Now we only have Htein Win's pictures. They are historic," U Sonny Nyein said.
Even though some of his negatives were destroyed, Htein Win managed to smuggle some of them out of the country with some friends' help. They landed at an international archive in Amsterdam until now, and the 100 pictures to be featured at the exhibit were selected from those remaining in the archive to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the uprising.
He believes his pictures are historical records to let young people who were born after 1988 know what happened in the country three decades ago, as images are sometimes more convincing than words.
"I am glad to see the pictures made public before I die," the 72-year-old said.
'8888 The Uprising' photo exhibition will be open to the public from Aug. 8 to 12 at Beik Thano Art Gallery in Bahan Township in Yangon. Admission is free.
The post Historic '88 Uprising Photos on Display 30 Years Later appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 02:54 AM PDT
MANDALAY — At least 20 prospectors were killed and several remain missing after a waste pile collapsed in the Lone Khin jade mining region of Kachin State on Saturday.
Dozens of people were injured in the incident.
The waste pile near a mine operated by Maha Mining Co. in Lone Khin's Waikhar jade mining area collapsed as about 100 prospectors were searching it for jade residues on Saturday, according to local authorities.
"Fifteen bodies were unearthed and 45 people were injured. Eighteen people with serious injuries were sent to the Myitkyina General Hospital, while those with minor injuries were treated at hospitals in Lone Khin and Hpakant," the duty officer at the Lone Khin police station told The Irrawaddy.
Police officials said the rescue operation was ongoing, adding that heavy rain may have triggered the collapse. The regional administration office provided some financial support to the victims' families.
According to local witnesses, more than 100 prospectors were on the waste pile when it collapsed. They said the death toll was likely to rise above 15, as there were still people missing and several of the injured are in serious condition.
"We've heard that 10 people are missing and we've reported this to the rescue team. The death toll could go higher, as the rescuers are still looking for the missing. Hopefully, there will be no rain and the rescuers will be able to do their jobs and find the bodies," said Ko Nawng Latt, director of Green Land, a local environmental conservation group.
Waste pile collapses are common in the Hpakant and Lone Khin jade mining region, and have claimed the lives of many small-time prospectors who search the huge hills of soil for jade residues.
Collapses are especially frequent in the monsoon season, when the region receives heavy rain and the earth is softened. However, financial need causes the prospectors to risk their lives and search the piles despite the danger.
Local civil society groups involved in environmental conservation in the Hpakant and Lone Khin region said the lack of rule of law in the region means more such incidents are likely.
"Local authorities are weak [on enforcing regulations]; their own security is at risk due to the many armed groups operating in the region," Ko Nawng Latt said.
"The mining companies take advantage of the lawlessness of the region and do not follow the mining rules and regulations. Moreover, as long as the prospectors are willing to risk their lives to search for jade residues, such incidents will continue," he added.
The post At Least 20 Prospectors Killed in Lone Khin Slag Heap Collapse appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 02:42 AM PDT
In 1988, Yangon measured about 80 sq. miles (around 207 sq. km). The city has grown in the three decades since then and now covers more than 300 sq. miles (777 sq. km). The author of this article has been in the urban planning field for around 50 years and has never come across another city that has more than tripled in size within such a short period. However, the authorities in Yangon are planning to expand the city further by building the “New Yangon City project." A few questions regarding the project are justified, such as:
Obviously, these major issues confronting Yangon should be addressed when planning the new city. The following are some relevant facts and figures:
Fig. 1. Land prices in Yangon since 1994
Fig. 2. Modes of transportation among Yangon commuters
Of all the arguments made for or against the city expansion project, the most important is "to promote national harmony and unity." Yangon had a population of 5.2 million in 2014, four times larger than Myanmar's second-largest city, Mandalay. Yangon Region has the highest per capita GDP in the Union, and in terms of health care, employment and education facilities, the population of Yangon enjoys the best the Union has to offer. But what are the ramifications of this disparity and inequality between regions for national unity and the Union's long-term future?
Authorities expect about 2 million people to work in New Yangon City, implying a total population of around 8 million. Including Yangon's existing population of around 5 million and accounting for natural growth, this would create a gigantic urban conglomeration with a population of around 14-15 million.
Since World War II, planned towns and extension schemes have appeared worldwide, including Chandigarh in India (present population around 1 million), Brasilia in Brazil (2.5 million), Islamabad in Pakistan 1 million, and Putrajaya in Malaysia (designed for a population of around 200,000). The present plan for New Yangon City exceeds all of these in terms of population size and targeted employment. This is an issue of national concern and requires more thorough and comprehensive investigation and the conducting of feasibility studies. Above all, this scheme requires approval by parliamentary and executive authorities at multiple levels. After this approval phase, cooperation and assistance from Union ministries with specialized knowledge and experience in this field will be necessary from the planning stage.
Dr. Kyaw Lat is an architect and urban planner with work experience in the Department of Human Settlements and Housing Development, Ministry of Construction, United Nations Center for Human Settlements (Habitat), as a professor at Yangon and Mandalay Technological universities, as a professor at Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany, and finally before his retirement, as the adviser to the Yangon City and Development Council from 2011 until 2016.
The post The New Yangon City Project: An Urban Planner's View appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 15 Jul 2018 09:15 PM PDT
YANGON — Two jailed Reuters reporters on trial in Myanmar accused of obtaining secret state documents will testify in court from Monday, in a case that is seen as a test of press freedom in the fledgling democracy.
Journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were last week charged with breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act after six months of pre-trial hearings. Both have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will testify on Monday and Tuesday respectively – the first time since being detained in December that they have had the opportunity to fully tell their version of events in public.
The case has attracted global attention, with many governments and rights groups calling for the reporters’ release. Some diplomats and activists say it is a test of progress towards full democracy under the administration of Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in a country where the military still wields considerable influence.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay has declined to comment throughout the proceedings, saying Myanmar’s courts are independent and the case would be conducted according to the law. He did not answer calls seeking comment on Sunday.
At the time of their arrest, the reporters had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The killings took place during a military crackdown that United Nations agencies say led to more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
The reporters have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some rolled up papers at a restaurant in northern Yangon by two policemen they had not met before.
The trial phase is expected to last several more weeks. The defense will call witnesses, who will testify and be cross-examined by prosecutors. Both sides will then make their final arguments and the judge is expected to deliver a verdict as early as next month.
A prosecution witness, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, told the Yangon district court in April that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to plant the documents on Wa Lone to “trap” the reporter.
After his court appearance, Moe Yan Naing was sentenced to a year in jail for violating police discipline by having spoken to Wa Lone, and his family was evicted from police housing. Police have said the eviction and his sentencing were not related to his testimony.
The post Jailed Reuters Journalists to Testify in Myanmar Court appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 15 Jul 2018 09:10 PM PDT
The 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach were informed on Sunday of the sacrifice made by Petty Officer 1st Class Samarn Gunan, an ex-Navy SEAL who lost his life during the dramatic rescue operation at the Tham Luang cave complex on July 6.
Dr. Jessada Chokdamrongsuk, the public health permanent secretary, said doctors and psychiatrists looking after the young patients believed that they had been physically and mentally rehabilitated enough to be told of what happened to Samarn, who has been hailed as a hero.
They all broke down in tears upon being told of the sacrifice he made and together stood up in silence to pay tribute to Samarn. They also drew a picture of him to convey their condolences.
They also made a pledge to be good citizens to repay what Samarn and others did to save their lives. A video clip showing the young soccer players paying tribute to Samarn was also released on Sunday.
A royally sponsored cremation was held for Samarn in Roi-et on Saturday. His Majesty the King posthumously promoted Samarn to the rank of lieutenant commander – an unprecedented rise of seven ranks.
Dr. Jessada said the latest medical report from the director of Chiang Rai hospital showed all 12 patients making a gradual recovery. They are now allowed to have close contact with their visiting families.
The patients, who were rescued in a high-profile operation that captivated the world after being trapped for 17 days in Tham Luang cave, are scheduled to be discharged from the hospital on Thursday. But doctors have advised against exposing them to the media in the next month, fearing some could develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
The post Wild Boars in Tears After Being Told of Samarn's Death appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 13 Jul 2018 09:43 PM PDT
Ye Ni: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! Yangon's West District Court charged two Reuters reporters, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, under the Official Secrets Act on July 9. Did the court make the decision independently? If it did, does it threaten press freedom? U Sein Win, from the Myanmar Journalism Institute, and U Zeya Hlaing, an editor and a member of the Myanmar Journalists Network, join me to discuss this. I'm The Irrawaddy Burmese editor, Ye Ni.
As you know, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo have been charged under the Official Secrets Act. The court accepted the charge after the two were detained for seven months and 22 prosecution witnesses testified at the court. The president and chief editor of the Reuters news agency immediately released a statement saying that the charge is groundless and there is no legal evidence against the two. According to our own study, the case was not well established by the police. One of the prosecution witnesses, [former] police Captain Moe Yan Naing, testified that the two reporters were set up. And police Corporal Khin Maung Lin was not presented to the court even though he was originally included in the list of prosecution witnesses. This aroused suspicion. State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in her interview with Japanese news agency NHK, said about the case of the Reuters reporters that there may have been violations of the law and that she would wait for the court’s decision. And now the court has accepted the charge. Ko Sein Win, did you see any strong evidence presented to the court against the two by prosecution witnesses?
Sein Win: The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were predetermined. The police chief might have given instructions that the two be caught anyway. This was revealed by the account of the insider. Despite this, we are shocked by the court's decision to accept the charge for trial. Not only the police, even State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the two were not real journalists and that they had violated the [Official] Secrets Act not only in her meeting with [US diplomat] Bill Richardson but also in her interview with NHK. So their violation was predetermined. And we didn't see any strong evidence against the two presented to the court. Procedures were skipped and the court finally accepted the charge. Yes, it is true that the judge can accept or reject a case based on his reasoning. But in my opinion there was no concrete evidence against the two.
YN: What do you think, Ko Zeya Hlaing? The Home Affairs Ministry has influence [over the judiciary]. What's more, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has made such a comment. Would the judge dare to decide independently?
Zeya Hlaing: I know some judges who I became acquainted with at seminars. They said they don't want to handle media cases because they are very wary of them. Frankly speaking, the corruption of the judicial system has already triggered a debate in Parliament. The judges are pressured from various sides. There might be pressure from the press, as in the Reuters case. There might be pressure from authorities. And other organizations are keeping an eye on them. So I'm sure it is stressful for them. Also, they don't get money [from defendants or plaintiffs], so they will be very distressed and may want to conclude the case as soon as possible.
As I've said, authorities are putting pressures on them, and since the case concerns the Ministry of Home Affairs it is quite difficult for them to handle. The Home Affairs Ministry has set the two up in this plot from the very beginning. I said it is a plot because the script had already been written. One of the actors, police Captain Win Yan Naing, spoke about the part he was asked to play and said it was a setup. He was then silenced with imprisonment. It is very simple. And Corporal Khin Maung Lin, mentioned by Ko Ye Ni, was put out of our sight. It is very simple. Our lives are funny, to put it ironically. The Home Affairs Ministry, which plays a big role in the executive and judicial branches, could make [the accused mastermind] of the assassination [of prominent lawyer U Ko Ni] at an airport in front of many people disappear at a herbal park in Naypyitaw and also arrest [the two reporters] without any supporting evidence. This shows that there is no freedom and there is no legal protection for us. [Authorities] have organized a lot of press conferences [about the Rakhine issue]. They [police] called [the two reporters] and gave them documents. And Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested before they even knew what the documents were about.
The case was exaggerated and labeled a breach of state security and a leak of state secrets. And the two were labeled traitors. The two, being journalists, went [to Rakhine State] to find out if there was a massacre of people as alleged by the international community. So if [the authorities] assume the massacre is a state security, then we have reason to rationally suspect that [authorities] support the ism of killing. Society and concerned authorities need to boldly reveal the truth.
YN: Setting aside the legal aspects of the case, I would like to approach it based on democratic norms and values since we are undergoing a democratization process. The best example of this is found in the United States. In the time of President [Richard] Nixon, a 4,000-page report by the US Department of Defense about their failing war in Vietnam was leaked. Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post made detailed reports about it. And the executive authorities including President Nixon and the Department of Defense put pressure on the court, accusing those newspapers of dangerously exposing state secrets. The court ruled in favor of press freedom, saying it was necessary for the people. In the case of Reuters, [authorities] first said it was a state secret. But after the case [of the massacre] was exposed, the Tatmadaw [military] said it was not a state secret, corrected the label and punished the perpetrators. But then the lawsuit was not withdrawn and instead continued to proceed. Is that a red light sign for press freedom?
SW: It mainly concerns judicial independence. You've mentioned the case during the time of President Nixon in the US. In another case concerning state secrets, politicians asked Congress to take harsh action against [US whistleblower Edward] Snowden. They called him a traitor because US secrets were exposed to its rivals and enemies like Russia and China. They said national interests were undermined by the leaks. They also asked Congress to file lawsuits against newspapers like The Guardian and The Washington Post that reported on the leaks. It is interesting to note that the judge ruled that newspapers had nothing to do with it. The press has freedom. What the press exposes is no longer a secret. The court ruled that only Snowden was responsible for it and declared the press not guilty. Congressmen demanded harsh action against the press, but they lost.
This shows that judicial independence is the most important factor. As Ko Zeya has said, there is no judicial independence in our country. Most of the judiciary has to dance to the tune [of upper-level authorities]. At least that is the public perception. It is bad that it has a negative public image.
But in a democracy there must be judicial independence and press freedom. No democracy will thrive without them. There won't be a functioning democracy without them. There will only be a sham and nominal democracy.
YN: Ko Zeya Hlaing, as the Reuters reporters were charged under the Official Secrets Act for their investigative report, will this deter others from doing the same thing with injustice in the future?
ZH: There are many threats. I mean there is more than one law that threatens press freedom. And the Reuters case is a high-profile case that the international community knows about. Our job is to make sure that authorities and those mandated by the people function well in their positions and to find out if they are violating the trust of people who rely on them. Speaking of the Reuters case, because of the investigative report, responsible officials have been punished. But those who exposed the case have also been put behind bars. So this is injustice. This is a direct threat to [press] freedom and is also intended to produce a chilling effect. It is like saying, ‘Don't try to find out what we don't want you to know; you saw what happened to the Reuters reporters.'”
If they are right, they need to conceal nothing. They should boldly reveal. Since the problem broke out I have said that it is not enough to just shout that my hands are not stained with blood. Rather, our society should have the courage to unfold the hands and show that they are not stained with blood.
Especially if authorities are not brave enough to be honest about the truth, it will be very difficult for us to establish a democratic society. We journalists make investigative reports to seek a balance, and those responsible have been punished as a result. But those who exposed the case are detained and charged. People in our society know if it is reasonable or not.
YN: Thank you for your contributions!
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.
The post Reuters Charges Expose Military’s Power Over Courts appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
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