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Than Shwe, U Kyaw Hla Aung: Lions in the Throat of the Dragon Sittwe, Arakan State, Myanmar

Richard Potter
RB Opinion
October 13, 2013

All people actively participating in their governments, however they disagree with them, know too, almost instinctively, that their disagreements are protected by the institutions that they mean to challenge. The bodies they want to change are made of the people they belong to, the communities they raise their children in. 

It's a luxury. A luxury I have. In my greatest anger, sometimes I’m reminded to be humble. To be grateful. I'm reminded by my betters, of whom are countless. I'm reminded that I am already a part of the things that I want to change. 

I write this not to explain suffering to the people who live through it, but in hopes to remind those who enjoy and continue to enjoy their freedoms of those completely denied any. 

On August 15 Than Shwe was arrested after being beaten in his home by police in front of his wife and daughter. He was charged in connection to a protest that resulted in the death of one and injury of ten. Than Shwe was scheduled to appear before court on these charges on October 4th but the date was postponed to the 9th and 14th of this month. His fate remains uncertain. The fate of his wife and baby daughter are tethered to his. How long he remains incarcerated is how long they will have to find ways to survive without him, how long his daughter will grow up without knowing the touch and kindness of her father. 

What lies under the surface of this is what is most unsettling and most emblematic of the hollow nature of supposed political reform for the ethnic and religious minorities living in Myanmar. The riots that Than Shwe was charged in connection with were in reality, a crowd demanding back the body of a young Rohingya who had died under mysterious circumstances. All the injuries sustained were from police firing live rounds into the crowd. What were Than Shwe's connection to these events? Posting pictures of what happened on social media. Not hiding his face when stating his opinion, a beacon eclipsed by the junta before anyone was could see it. 

Similarly and more prominently, Rohingya lawyer and activist U Kyaw Hla Aung was detained on July 15th and charged shortly after for rioting and inciting protests within Rohingya IDP camps. What U Kyaw Hla Aung had in fact inspired was hope that humanity and reason could peacefully overcome an antiquated cruelty. The day of his arrest fell on the same day Myanmar President, U Thein Sein, announced on his visit to Europe that a major aspect of democrat reforms in Myanmar would include the release of all political prisoners. Thein Sein did not clarify that this reform may not pertain to ethnic and religious minorities, but the events on the ground that day proved sufficiently the hollowness of his word and the limitations of his reform. 

U Kyaw Hla Aung's case has garnered significant global attention. Appeals for his case have been taken by international humanitarian organizations including Amnesty International and Frontline Defenders. Where the easy narrative of ethnic and sectarian strife can pass by many without a second glance the world is increasingly taking notice. The men who were supposed to be forgotten are becoming increasingly exalted. 

Than Shwe and U Kyaw Hla Aung are two of many in Arakan, whom without representation, without government in the world, raised their voices to say “this is what's happening here” and the government responded without hesitation to bring silence to them. For every spark of courage, for every flicker of hope, always comes the foot to snuff it out, the greater the beacon one man creates for the rest. So too is the harshness he brings down upon himself. Effectively hope, if only hope, that the world will learn of the suffering of the Rohingya has been outlawed. Yet still the inspiration one man inspires in another will always remain indestructible. And yet. And yet.

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