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Spirit of Resistance Strong as Activists Attend Large Public Gatherings on Martyrs’ Day

By Burma Partnership  •  July 25, 2011

In a stirring reminder of the strength and resilience of pro-democracy and human rights movement in Burma, over 3,000 people marched in a public demonstration led by democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to commemorate Martyrs’ Day on 19 July in Rangoon.

The day marked the anniversary of the assassination of the independence hero General Aung San and his colleagues in 1947. Burma’s military regime has consistently sought to wipe General Aung San from public memory, not least because of the legacy that his daughter, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to this day.

This year, sparked by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s presence, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other pro democracy and ethnic rights organizations rallied over 3,000 people in a march towards the Martyrs’ Mausoleum, the largest public gathering in the country since the Saffron Revolution in 2007. The democracy leader visited the mausoleum twice; once in the regime organized ceremony, and the second as the leader of the public procession.

Ceremonies were held around the country by NLD branches in Shan, Kachin and Arakan States, and Mandalay, Magwe, Tennasserim, and Pegu Divisions. As laws restrict public gatherings of more than five people, this year’s large-scale public participation in the commemorations is a strong sign that the spirit of resistance is strong as activists seek to push the limits set by the military regime.

The day was certainly not without the usual repressive measures of the military regime. In Mandalay Division, Pho Htaung, an NLD member was arrested when returning home after attending a commemoration ceremony in nearby Meikthila. Despite being born in Burma, Pho Htaung is Muslim and thus has been denied citizenship by the military regime. Authorities claim that he failed to report that he would be traveling outside of his town, and as such he has been charged under the immigration act. Pho Htaung was previously imprisoned for a year under a similar charge in 2009 after leaving an NLD meeting in Mandalay. Being without legal citizenship, authorities may have perceived him to be a more vulnerable target, but nevertheless the timing of his arrests indicates that they have certainly been of a political nature.

Elsewhere, security remained tight with scores of plain-clothes officers and members of the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association circling the NLD office in Rangoon. NLD members sought to enter the mausoleum to pay their respects but authorities turned several away for wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s image.

Unhampered by the presence of authorities, the public gatherings remained strong throughout the day. Although they were peaceful and largely without strong political statements, large gatherings on politically sensitive dates such as Martyrs’ Day and the anniversaries of the 8.8.88 nationwide prodemocracy uprising and Saffron Revolution are acts of political defiance.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s presence has certainly fueled this year’s commemorations, with previously underground commemorations of this historic day coming above ground, demonstrating the people’s unified commitment to resistance. The scale of mobilization, from the NLD headquarters in Rangoon, to offices in ethnic states, is a testament to the democracy and ethnic rights movement that continues to push for change using all available means, despite the restrictive political space. The international community must rally around these groups and support them in their efforts to create change in a difficult environment. Just as the people of Burma have remembered their fallen heroes, we must remember those who continue to dedicate their lives to bring about genuine change in Burma and lend our support to help realize their goals.

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