On Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday, flowers

Usman Deen
Usman Deen

Global Courant

In military-ruled Myanmar, there appeared to be a new criminal offense this week: wearing a flower in one’s hair on June 19.

Pro-democracy activists say more than 130 people, most of them women, have been arrested for taking part in a “flower strike” to mark the birthday of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader overthrown by the military in a February 2021 coup. from Myanmar was expelled. She has been imprisoned by the junta ever since and turned 78 on Monday.

The protest – a clear, if unspoken, rebuke to the junta – garnered nationwide support and many shops reportedly sold all of their flowers. Most of the arrests took place on Monday, but they continued throughout the week as the military tracked down participants and supporters.

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In some cities and towns, soldiers grabbed women in the street for holding a flower or wearing one in their hair. Some were beaten, witnesses said. Police have also arrested people who used Facebook to post a birthday wish or a photo of themselves holding a flower.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, called the campaign the latest example of the “paranoia and bigotry” of Myanmar’s military rulers.

“It’s amazing that the junta hasn’t figured out that such tactics backfire by doubling down on people’s determination to completely and permanently push the military out of power, no matter the cost,” Robertson said.

The junta is facing an increasingly well-armed resistance from pro-democracy forces who are collaborating with ethnic rebel armies. The military has responded with brutal attacks on civilians, including air strikes on public gatherings. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights organization, more than 19,000 political prisoners are incarcerated.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a dissident in 1991, and she is still widely admired in Myanmar, although her defense of the army’s bloody crackdown on Rohingya Muslims when she led the civilian government has damaged her image as harmed international people. rights icon.

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She spent 15 years under house arrest for advocating democracy during an earlier period of military rule; this time she is being held in a prison in Naypyidaw, the capital, where she is serving a 33-year sentence on corruption and other charges her supporters say are trumped up. Her son, Kim Aris, said this week she was being held in isolation.

In the southern town of Mawlamyine, a supporter of the flower strike said she was arrested Monday at a florist shop along with the owner and seven other customers, all women, shortly after arriving to buy a flower.

They were taken to a police station and forced to sign a statement saying they were wrong to join the demonstration and promised not to talk about politics or Ms Aung San Suu Kyi in the future, said the woman, who asked not to be identified. for fear of being arrested again.

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She and the other customers were released later in the day, the woman said Thursday, but the florist was still detained and her shop was closed.

In London, Mr. Aris went to the Myanmar embassy on Monday, where he tried to leave flowers and a birthday card for his mother. The staff refused to open the door, so he attached the bouquet to a railing and pushed the card through an opening near the door frame.

In a video, he called on the junta to reflect on his mother’s “older years” and allow her to return to her family home in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, where she spent years under house arrest. He said at least she could be reunited with her dog.

“Even though she’s well used to being alone, it’s not something she should accept,” he said.

Many of those arrested since Monday were targeted by a pro-military Telegram channel called Han Nyein Oo, which publishes personal information about people critical of the junta. Often they are arrested within minutes.

U Kyee Myint, 78, a seasoned human rights lawyer, has been in hiding since being mentioned in the channel. He said over the phone that this week’s arrests showed “that Myanmar is ruled by madmen and cowards”.

“I fear that the girls who were arrested because they were found with flowers in their hair will be tortured in the notorious interrogation centers,” he said.

A jewelry retailer in Mandalay, U Myint Naing, said the Telegram channel on Tuesday issued a call for the arrest of his 34-year-old son for writing “Happy Birthday Mother Su” on Facebook, alongside a photo of himself holding a red rose over his ear. Hours later, he said, soldiers came to their door and arrested his son.

The soldiers said they would take him to one of the junta’s many interrogation centers, notorious for torture. He has not been heard from since then, said Mr. Myint Naing.

“This was just a birthday wish for someone he loves,” he said. “He doesn’t hurt anyone. How can the military be afraid of one person with a flower?”

On Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday, flowers

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