Saturday, March 01, 2008
BURMA'S SICK JOKE: REPRISE
n an article a few days ago I drew attention to the ludicrous new rules drawn up by Burma's military rulers for conducting their "referendum" on a draft constitution, set to take place sometime in May. Anytime a dictator pretends to seek his people's approval in a process which permits only one correct answer (wrong answers will be punished), he deserves only ridicule and scorn.
For the Burmese population under their boots, any expression of this normal human reaction toward such a perverted process would carry great risk. But the talented political cartoonist Harn Lay is fortunately out of the junta's reach, and summed up the situation brilliantly a few days ago in the Irrawaddy:
This is the "roadmap" the dictators will follow toward "democracy." Click the image for the original, and browse his other drawings. A hard-cover volume of his work is available from Irrawaddy, entitled Defiant Humor, and new subscriptions to the magazine will receive the book as a gift.
For many of Burma's liberty dissidents, existing under the regime entails a life in hiding. One such man is Tun Myint Aung, who since last August has been evading the dreaded military and intelligence agents by constantly shifting from one safehouse to another, armed only with two important weapons -- a mobile phone and a shortwave receiver. It's far too dangerous for him to even contact his family, who he hasn't talked to for many months since they are closely watched. Fortunately, the junta doesn't have a photograph of him.
Tun Myint Aung knows what would be in store if he were caught; arrested in 1990 for his activities with the 88 Generation movement, he spent three years in Insein Prison and was re-arrested in 1998 for another seven year stint.
But now the focus is on the sham constitution and its sham referendum. Mounting a "no" campaign from the shadows of ever-changing hiding places will be a difficult endeavour for this admirable man, and his fellow freedom fighters living under similar circumstances. But the 88 Generation have been getting their message out despite the difficulties. Last month they answered the referendum announcement quickly, denouncing it as a "declaration of war by the military regime against the Burmese people." And last week (as noted here) they issued a criticism of China's deplorable support for their nation's tormentors, calling for a boycott of the Beijing Totalitarian Games 2008.
Despite the overwhelming odds against them, Tun Myint Aung says he is not depressed, but excited to have such a heavy task to face. The May "vote" is not far off.
"There are 11 organizations we are working with to inform the public that the new constitution was not drafted by the people's representatives. We are also warning that the referendum will not be free and fair," says Tun Myint Aung. "But if people want to vote, we are urging them to vote 'No'. They have to oppose the military's plan to get its political life extended legally."Tun Myint Aung will likely be sleeping in an unfamiliar place tonight, with his cell phone and radio close at hand, and one ear open for a warning sound that might necessitate a quick escape. For he and his comrades, this is the freedom lover's way of life.
A mass movement against the referendum is also being discussed. "We want a nation-wide silent movement against the military. We have been contacting people in our network, through the phone and other ways, to get this message out," he reveals. "Our actions are to get as many people to lead this silent protest. That is how we have always worked. It is never been based on only one person."