Overseas Activists Say No to Myanmar Constitution

Overseas Activists Say No to Myanmar Constitution

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – In Myanmar’s largest city, security was tightened as rumors spread that pro-democracy activists would launch protests against an upcoming referendum on a draft constitution.  Riot police and junta supporters carrying batons were deployed at major road junctions and Buddhist monuments.  Dissidents in Myanmar and exile groups have urged voters to vote against the constitution, saying it is merely a ploy to perpetuate more than four decades of military rule.

Hundreds of Myanmar nationals living overseas said “No” to the country’s proposed new constitution. In Singapore, about 500 Myanmar nationals wearing red or t-shirts with the word “No”, gathered outside the Myanmar embassy to protest against the country’s proposed new constitution.  They were prevented from voting on their country’s draft constitution when they refused demands from embassy personnel to remove T-shirts.  “It’s a sham referendum,” said Myo Mying Maung, spokesman for the Overseas Burmese Patriots.  He urged everyone to vote ‘no’ “because the draft constitution is for a sham democracy”.  A  student said. “It’s not for a true and real democracy as all the terms in the constitution are biased toward the military regime.”

In Tokyo, at least 150 Myanmar citizens were protesting at the Burmese embassy, demanding that all Burmese expatriates be allowed to vote in the referendum.  Several demonstrators were injured and one man arrested during scuffles with Japanese police.  In Thailand, the demonstrators, organized by the Joint Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, chanted slogans against the May 10 referendum. Protest organizers called the vote a ploy to help Burma’s ruling generals keep their grip on power.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament is scheduled to hold a debate on Burma this week in Strasbourg and will vote on a new resolution which would exert more pressure on the Burmese military junta, according to the parliament’s official website.  These measures included a ban on the import of gemstones, timber and precious metal.

For more information, please see:

AP – Security tightened in Myanmar amid possible demonstration – 27 April 2008

AFP – Myanmar nationals in Singapore signal ‘no’ as they wait to vote – 27 April 2008

Bangkok Post – Burma bars anti-constitution group from voting – 27 April 2008

Bloomberg – Myanmar Nationals in Singapore, Indonesia Vote on Constitution – 27 April 2008

Reuters – Myanmar nationals protest constitution in Singapore – 27 April 2008

BRIEF: Mass Graves Found in Iraq

The Iraqi forces uncovered two different mass graves in the last two days where they found over 100 bodies.  The bodies were uncovered in southern Baghdad and the city of al-Guba, which is 50 miles north of Baghdad.  The bodies were discovered in an area that used to be a former stronghold of al-Qaeda.  The bodies were badly damaged as the corpses had their hands bound and many were killed through gun shot wounds to the head.  Some of the bodies had already begun decomposing.

Last month, another mass grave was found with over 100 bodies.

For more information, please see:

News.Scotsman.com- Mass graves containing over 100 decomposed corpses uncovered by Iraqi forces- 28 April 2008

The Press Association- 50 bodies unearthed in mass grave- 27 April 2008

BRIEF: Bangladesh Tribal Villages Destroyed

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bengali settlers destroyed seven tribal villages belonging to the Jumma tribal people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region in Bangladesh.

According to the rights group Survival International, “Jumma villagers, including women and children, were beaten in the attack and their belongings looted. One hundred houses were destroyed and the Jumma villagers have fled into the surrounding forests. Bengali setters were also injured.”

Violence in the area increased after the army-backed Bangladesh government took power in January 2007. Several tribal groups have demanded implementation of a December 1997 treaty that had ended a 20-year uprising for autonomy. The government had promised regional councils that it would withdrawal of troops. Although about seventy military camps have moved, hundred remain. Over 2,500 people have been killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of the treaty during the last two decades. Opponents believe that the treaty does not give sufficient autonomy.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Tribal Villages Torched in Bangladesh: Officials – 26 April 2008

BRIEF: Ho Chi Minh Police Arrest Pro-Democracy Activists

HANOI, Vietnam – In 2006 three men were arrested by the Ho Chi Minh police in Vietnam for demonstrating against the Communist government and calling for civil liberties and democracy in Vietnam.  The three men are members of what has been named the Bloc 8406 group.  This group is named after the day April 18, 2006, when its founding members were arrested for posting pro-democracy writings on-line.  The group has been outlawed by the Vietnam government.

The three men, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Ngoc Quang and Vu Hoang Hai, have received terms of 2-5 years of jail time by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court.  The Vietnam News Agency and other state-controlled media outlets have reported that the three men were charged with posting documents online that, “distorted history, attacked administrations and tarnished the party and state officials, and incited people to protest.”

More recently, Vietnamese blogger, Nguyen Van Hai, was arrested under charges of “tax evasion.”  Hai is a pro-democracy activist who has reported on the protests against the Olympic torch relay.  Hai is part of a larger network of bloggers called the Union of Independent Journalists.  Other members of this group have been calling protests during the upcoming torch relay and have helped to organize demonstrations against China’s claim of sovereignty over the Paracel Islands.

For more information, please see:

Macau Daily Times – Vietnam Jails Three Pro-Democracy Activists – 27 April 2008

Bangkok Post – Vietnam Arrest Blogger for Reporting Torch Protests – 27 April 2008

Pro-Democracy Candidates Elected: Tonga’s King Urged to Reform

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga — Pro-democracy candidates won more than half the available seats in Tonga’s Parliament in Thursday’s elections. The newly elected members are, meanwhile, facing sedition charges for alleged participation in riots that destroyed Tonga’s capital in 2006.In Tonga’s political system, the people elect nine Parliamentary members, nobles appoint another nine, and the King appoints 15, which include all the country’s ministers.

Of the nine MPs popularly elected, the pro-democracy candidates won six seats. The pro-democracy movement’s leader, Akilisi Pohiva, garnered the most support, winning 11,290 votes. The second most popular candidate attracted some 4,000 fewer votes. Thursday’s election saw a record number of people register, 68,0000, to elect the nine representatives.

“I think the message is clear now. The outcome of the election is like a referendum because the government has been doing its very best, using all its resources, and dominating all the media outlets trying to destroy us, but the battle is over now,” Pohiva said.

Thursday’s election is the first since 2006, when the pro-democracy movement turned violent, causing the death of eight and destroying Tonga’s capital city, Nuku’alofa. The riots erupted after the Legislative Assembly of Tonga adjourned for the year without employing promised reforms. Five of the six newly elected candidates, including Pohiva, are currently facing criminal charges for their alleged involvement in the riots.

One Australian resident, Inoke Fotu Hu’akau, who was unsuccessful in the election warned, “Pro-democracy is getting to be more like a cult than a political party. It is getting harder to counter it as time goes by.”

Although Tonga is presently a constitutional monarchy, the growing pro-democracy movement has urged King George Tupou V to make good on his proposed democratic reforms. Among its reforms, the Government has proposed giving the majority of legislative seats, now mostly occupied by the King’s ministers, to popularly elected officials during the 2010 elections.

The King appears willing to support a more democratic Tonga, but the pro-democratic movement wants his commitment in writing. Although the details of the 2010 reforms remain hazy, the people of Tonga have made their preferences for a more representative government abundantly clear.

For more information, please see:
The Australian — ‘Rioters’ poll best in Tonga — 26 April 2008

TVNZ — Tongans back democracy campaigners — 26 April 2008

BBC News —  Tongans elect pro-democracy MPs — 25 April 2008

ABC Radio Australia — Tonga MPs call on king to keep promises over political involvement — 25 April 2008

ABC Radio Australia — Tong’as pro democracy movement wants King to back political reform — 25 April 2008

ABC News — Tongan MPs urge King to lessen political influence — 25 April 2008

The Sydney Morning Herald — Tonga pro-democracy MPs claim mandate — 25 April 2008