By Zin Linn
On this 8 August, 2011, democracy-longing Burmese people around the globe will hold 23rd Anniversary of the 1988 People’s Democracy Revolution. On the contrary, no remembrances will be allowed to mark the 8888 anniversary in Burma, and heavy police security will be seen in big cities especially in Rangoon (Yangon) around Shwedagon Pagoda to fend off any protests.
In September 1987, Burma’s then dictator General Ne Win made mismanagement with downgrading general economy by revoking certain currency notes abruptly. As a superstitious man, he wanted only 45 and 90 kyat notes in circulation. He made such foolish decision because they were divisible by nine, which he considered a lucky number for his destiny.
However, by cancelling those currency notes which people keep as their savings were done away with overnight. Protests in relation to the swelling economic catastrophe were started by students of Burma, particularly in Rangoon.
On 13 March 1988, students protesting in front pf the Rangoon Institute of Technology ran into the security police plus military personnel and a student leader Phone Maw, a fourth year engineering student, was shot dead. His death activated more and more mass protests, which draw ordinary citizens and Burma’s much revered monks together with the avant-garde students.
On 8 August 1988 – well-known as 8-8-88 Democracy Movement – hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country, calling for democracy. During this time, dissenting newspapers were freely brought out, banners of fighting-peacock were flying everywhere, coordinated demonstrations were held and many democratic speakers were appeared in public meetings.
On 26 August, Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence icon Aung San who had come back to Burma to look after her ailing mother, made a speech at Shwedagon Pagoda where roughly half million supporters appeared and became the public figure of the 1988 democracy movement.
Eventually, General Ne Win resigned as ruling socialist-party boss on 23 July. However, he made a last warning that “when the army shoots, it shoots in a straight line”. On 18 September, the military seized power supporting General Ne Win’s words.
Soldiers gunned down protesters using automatic rifle. They sprayed bullets into crowds of dissidenters. Hundreds of activists were taken away in army-trucks and most of them were never seen again. According to observers, analysts and Human rights watchers declare at least 3,000 citizens were killed.
After the 18 September coup d’état made by the then military Chief General Saw Maung, Aung San Suu Kyi led shaping the NLD, but she was put under house arrest in July 1989. Despite her detention, the NLD party won 1990 elections in a landslide, but it was never allowed to form a parliament. Since her initial arrest, she has been allowed only a few brief years of freedom.
Since that time on, thousands of political prisoners have been unilaterally thrown into jail under unfair laws and trials in the absence of their lawyers. The military government’s penal code allows giving excessive sentences against political activists. For instance, article 5 (j) of the penal code allows authorities to impose 7 to 20 year prison terms on anyone who joined in peaceful protest or showing different opinion against the regime. Another article 505 provides an indefinite prison term for criticizing the authorities’ policies or behaviors.
Besides, the regime time and again prosecuted political prisoners under the Emergency Provision Act, Law to Safeguard the State against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts, Television and Video Act, Unlawful Association Act, Electronic Transactions Law, and Law Relating to the Forming of Organizations. The worst is that the regime usually extended prison sentences under the Law Safeguarding the State from the Dangers of Subversive Elements.
According to international legal standard, all political prisoners have committed no crime at all. So, for the current President Thein Sein government, releasing of political prisoners should be the first and foremost of the political reform urgently requires today. Subsequently, the above mentioned undemocratic laws must be done away with as a necessity for change.
According to critics and watchdogs, the 7 November election, won by the military-backed political proxies, was flawed by widespread complaints of vote rigging and the exclusion of the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest shortly after the polls.
If Thein Sein government has ability and willingness to go along the political reform path, it must ensure the existence of the National League for Democracy which won landslide in 1990 and the essential role of its leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Moreover, the NLD has been founded based on the burning wishes of the people participated in 1988 democracy movement. Although the successive military-backed rulers try to eliminate the history of 1988 people’s democracy movement, their attempts are in vain. In the same way, they also do their utmost to abolish the NLD as the party is the symbol of the 1988 movement. But, it is also with little hope as yet.
Therefore, President Thein Sein should have optimistic brains to allow political space for Suu Kyi. It is time for starting a dialogue with the Nobel laureate who is also one of the outstanding leaders of the 1988 uprising.
Thein Sein needn’t take a lot of time for real changes in the destitute country. He must also show goodwill by releasing political prisoners who are one way or another related to the fundamental causes of the 1988 people’s democracy revolution.
Without releasing political prisoners, without honoring the vital role of Suu Kyi and the NLD, Burma’s political crisis may not be addressed. According to many Burma observers, the country will not step into a democratic phase while sham civilian government has been keeping political prisoners in jail and heightening the wars on ethnic communities.
If President Thein Sein government overlooked the reconciliation process via dialogue with Suu Kyi, Burma has to face next 8-8-88-liked civil strife again in the near future.