Civil Society and Student Groups in Rakhine State Denounce Myanmar Military Junta

Junta expedites cases of Rakhines detained on terrorism charges.
Civil Society and Student Groups in Rakhine State Denounce Myanmar Military Junta Protesters run during a crackdown on anti-coup protests at Hlaing Township in Yangon, Myanmar March 17, 2021.

Civil society and student groups in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state denounced the military junta Monday for unlawfully seizing power and using lethal force to quell peaceful protests, saying the people of the war-torn region know what the nation is going through.

Rakhine has been a theatre of heavy fighting between Myanmar’s military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) since late 2018. About 300 civilians died during the conflict, while more than 600 others were injured, and at its peak, 230,000 people were displaced.

Shortly after the Feb. 1 coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, widespread anti-military protests erupted across the country.

In Rakhine however, the protests happened only sporadically in a few townships in the southern part of the state, with none at all in the war-torn north.

The military junta, meanwhile, has been making overtures to the AA in an effort to garner their support, including removing a terrorist designation applied in 2020 to the armed group.

Though the AA welcomed the move, not all residents of Rakhine were swayed.

The 77 civil society groups Monday made three demands of the junta: release of all persons detained since the coup, renounce the unlawful military takeover, and recognize the need for a federal union style of government, based on local self-autonomy.

The statement said the civic groups not only felt sadness amid so many dead and wounded, but they also empathized with the people who now live in a state of fear, noting that Rakhines have been living in constant fear for as long as armed conflict had been going on in their state.

“We are seeing a lot of young people beaten and tortured and getting arrested and killed. We want an immediate end to all this,” Daw Nyo Aye, the chairwoman of the Rakhine Women’s Network told RFA’s Myanmar Service Monday.

“If we are going to have a true democracy, the authorities should consider all the requests from any state or division in the country,” she said.

Than Hla of the Rakhine New Generation Network told RFA that Rakhines understand firsthand what the rest of Myanmar is experiencing now.

“There was so much suffering, much worse than what we are seeing now, in the ethnic areas where there was a lack of media,” he said.

“Now we can see all the unacceptable and inhuman violence perpetrated even in areas where there is a presence of powerful media. We condemn the brutal violence of the military authorities,” said Than Hla.

In a separate statement, 11 Rakhine student unions pledged their support to the country’s students and activists standing up against the military in what they called the “Spring Revolution.”

“We cannot accept the fact that the military robbed power from the elected government and is brutally suppressing the people,” Mai Khine Zin May Than, president of the Chin University Students of Rakhine (CUSR), told RFA.

Political analysts, meanwhile, said that the violence and the fighting in Rakhine was a result of flaws in the design of the civilian government, under which the military held a guaranteed one-quarter of seats in Myanmar’s parliament.

“All the problems we are facing today are the result of a messed-up political system. The best solution for the country is to have a federal system without any intervention from the military,” Khin Maung Gyi of the Rakhine National Unity Committee told RFA.

Hla Myint, spokesman from the Arakan League for Democracy political party, told RFA that peace could only last if Myanmar adopts a federal democratic style of government.

“All the detainees must be released as a first step, and then we can start a dialogue that would be beneficial for the whole country,” he said.

“All three points demanded by these CSOs are in line with our party’s stand. If the current trend continues, the whole country will be heading for total destruction,” said Hla Myint.

RFA’s phone calls to the military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun went unanswered.

Expediting legal cases

As a result of the junta lifting the terrorist designation on the AA on March 11, authorities in Rakhine are expediting the cases of residents detained on suspicion of having a connection with the rebel group, lawyers representing the detainees told RFA.

“The State Council has given instructions to expedite these cases. It wants a quick end because we are now in a national reconciliation period,” said Aung Sit Min, a lawyer representing 22 villagers in pretrial detention for the past two years.

Myo Myat Hein, the director of a Sittwe law firm, said hearings for AA-related cases are happening more quickly now.

“We used to have court hearings for these cases once every one or two weeks, but now we are having two hearings per week,” he said.

“The authorities have declared that the AA is not a terrorist organization anymore. It’s a bit unusual that the hearings have been expedited,” said Myo Myat Hein.

Relatives of the detainees told RFA they were happy with the expedite order.

“Our husbands are innocent. I wish all these villagers could be released as soon as possible,” Thein Ma Yin, wife of Khin Maung Soe, currently in detention on terrorism charges, told RFA.

Than Than Htay of Ponnagyun township told RFA that she wanted a quick release for her brother Nyi Nyi Aung, who she says is innocent.

“He doesn’t know anything. He is a simple man and even so, the soldiers arrested him. If he has done anything wrong, then he deserves to be under arrest, but now we know he is innocent,” she said.

“We don’t want to blame anybody for all this. I just want him to be released,” said Than Than Htay.

The lawyers estimated there are at least 300 people who were charged under anti-terrorism laws in various parts of Rakhine State over the past two years.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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