The Myanmar Military’s Red Lines

October 10th, 2019  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  6 minute read
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The military’s economic interests, abuses in conflict areas and the rights of ethnic people are all still off limits as those who bravely speak out continue to face the same repression that activists in Myanmar have always done at the hands of the Myanmar military. Ko Aung Marm Oo, editor of a Rakhine news organization is still in hiding, Ko Swe Win, award-winning journalist, has had his spurious case reopened, while ethnic Karen activist, Naw Ohn Hla and her supporters are punished for simply celebrating the history and sacrifice of Karen people. Just over 12 months until the next national election, what kind of environment is being maintained where essential issues that are restricting any development towards democracy – such as the oppression of ethnic nationalities and the deep controls that the military has to the nation’s economy – are not allowed to be discussed?

The case of journalist, Ko Swe Win, recipient of the most prestigious award in Asia – the Ramon Magsaysay Award –  is an example of how the powerful in Myanmar attempt to silence critical voices. Ko Swe Win, editor-in-chief of the media outlet, Myanmar Now, had to endure endless court appearances over a period of two years for simply sharing an article on Facebook that contained comments by a senior monk regarding the ultranationalist and hatred-inciting figure, Wirathu. For two years he would have to make the 650KM round trip to the court in Mandalay, where witnesses wouldn’t turn up, formalities would take just a few minutes, while Wirathu himself was on the run due to facing charges of sedition. Eventually, after two years and dozens of appearances the township court dropped his case. Since then, Myanmar Now’s reporting on issues that take aim at the military’s corruption – such as the business interests of the family members of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing – has provoked a reaction, and on 30 September, the Mandalay District Court ordered the reopening of the case. Any pretence of an independent judiciary must surely be dropped. This is the Myanmar military using the morally bankrupt judiciary as a tool to punish the fearless reporting of Ko Swe Win and Myanmar Now.

The military’s economic interests are off limits, as are the military’s human rights violations and conduct during the armed conflict with the Arakan Army in Rakhine State. Ko Aung Marm Oo, editor-in-chief of the media organization, Development Media Group (DMG), remains in hiding after charges under the antiquated Unlawful Associations Act were filed against him and DMG were subject to harassment. DMG had been reporting on the abuses of the Myanmar military in Rakhine State, which has become all the more necessary since the government internet block continues in five townships in the state. This internet shutdown while ostensibly in place to block communications within the Arakan Army, has effectively blocked reporting on the actions of the Myanmar military, which Burma Campaign UK stated in relation to Ko Aung Marm Oo’s case, “has been deliberately targeting civilians, with civilians being killed, tortured, arrested and displaced.”

While armed conflict continues in Rakhine State, other ethnic nationalities still cannot exercise their right to commemorate their culture and history. Karen activist, Naw Ohn Hla, and two Karen youths who were in prison after being charged for organizing a ceremony in Yangon on Karen Martyrs Day, 12 August, were sentenced by a downtown court on 2 October to 15 days in prison. They were released after already spending 22 days in jail. Their crime was to use the word ‘martyr’ which the regional government did not want them to do. Furthermore, three people were charged by the police under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for marching to the courthouse on 27 September in a show of support and solidarity for Naw Ohn Hla. These cases, among several other policies of the NLD-led government that perpetuate the Burmanization of the country at the expense of ethnic people’s history and political and cultural identity, are a direct continuation of the Myanmar military’s chauvinism and ethnocentric violence. As the case of the three Karen activists demonstrates, those who fight against it become victims of the state’s repression.

The Myanmar military, and its corrupt proxy agencies, including the judiciary, government and police, are doing their utmost to stifle criticism and opposition to the issues that they deem as its red lines – military rule, violence and oppression of ethnic minorities, and entrenched economic interests. Yet the voices from the media, ethnic peoples and human rights activists must not be silenced. As Naw Ohn Hla said upon her release, “If the government does not care about ethnic peoples’ needs and wants, they are still far from building democracy in Myanmar.”


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

နယ်လှည့်ကျောပိုးအိတ်ကျန်းမာရေးလုပ်သားအဖွဲ့ (၈)ကြိမ်မြောက်ညီလာခံ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By Back Pack Health Worker Team

“Two decades of a struggle to provide health care in the conflict-affected areas of Burma/Myanmar”

By Back Pack Health Worker Team

Aung Marm Oo/Development Media Group – 150 Days in Hiding

By Burma Campaign UK

Promote Press Freedom, and End Reprisals Against Development Media Group


HRC42 Joint End of Session Statement

By International Service for Human Rights , DefendDefenders , Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative , CIVICUS , Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies , Asian Legal Resource Centre , FORUM-ASIA , International Commission of Jurists , Amnesty International , Association for Progressive Communications , Human Rights Watch , International Federation for Human Rights

ကရင်အာဇာနည်နေ့ ကျင်းပမှုကြောင့် မတရားဖမ်းဆီးတရားစွဲဆိုခံရသူများကို ဝန်းရံကူညီခဲ့ကြသည့် သူများအား အမှုဖွင့်တရားစွဲဆိုသည့်ကိစ္စ ဒီမိုကရေစီနှင့်ငြိမ်းချမ်းရေးအမျိုးသမီးအဖွဲ့နှင့်ကရင်အမျိုးသမီးအစည်းအရုံးတို့မှ ပူးတွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Karen Women Union , Democracy Peace and Women Organization

SAFEnet Urges Myanmar Government to End Internet Shutdown in Rakhine, Myanmar

By Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”