Burmese Protesters Continue to Demand Democracy as Authorities “Shoot to Kill” in Sweeping Crackdown

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Martial law has been declared in more parts of Burma as the military junta intensifies its crackdown following the February 1 coup. At least 217 protesters have been killed and over 2,000 have been arrested or detained since the coup began, according to one Burmese group. Protests are continuing across the country amid a crackdown on communications, in which much of Burma is under an internet blackout and independent newspapers have stopped publishing. Despite international criticism, the Burmese military is tightening its grip on power. People are continuing to protest even as they face the risk of arrest, police brutality and death, says Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, a Burmese human rights activist with Burma Campaign UK who is the daughter of longtime Burmese dissident Mya Aye. “Protesters keep coming out on the street calling for democracy and human rights because we don’t want to live under another military dictatorship.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

Martial law has been declared in more parts of Burma as the military junta intensifies its crackdown following the February 1st coup. According to one Burmese group, at least 217 protesters have been killed and over 2,000 have been arrested or detained since the coup began. On Sunday, at least 38 people were killed in the deadliest day of political violence so far. But protests are continuing across the country.

PROTESTER: [translated] The military announced martial law, which means they have declared war, and it gave them authority to access people’s properties or do whatever they want. Building these barricades, it protects us to some extent, and it is the only type of security we can do.

AMY GOODMAN: The military is also cracking down on communications. Much of Burma is under an internet blackout, and independent newspapers have stopped publishing. Last week, all 15 nations of the U.N. Security Council issued a joint statement condemning the, quote, “violence against peaceful protestors, including against women, youth and children.” China and Russia backed the U.N. statement. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused the military of torturing prisoners.

RAVINA SHAMDASANI: At least five deaths in custody have occurred in recent weeks, and at least two victims’ bodies have shown signs of severe physical abuse, indicating that they were tortured. We are deeply disturbed that the crackdown continues to intensify, and we again call on the military to stop killing and detaining protesters.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite the international criticism, the Burmese military is intensifying its grip on power. Earlier today, additional charges were filed against the ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Meanwhile, Burma’s U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, has been charged with treason following his remarks last month at the U.N. condemning the coup.

We go now to Geneva, Switzerland, where we’re joined by Wai Hnin. She’s a Burmese human rights activist with Burma Campaign UK. She’s the daughter of a longtime Burmese dissident who’s a former student leader and political prisoner, who’s been detained since the start of the coup.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Wai Hnin. Thank you so much for joining us. Explain what’s happening on the ground, the massive assault on protesters, and also what’s happening with your father, a well-known now political prisoner.

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: Thank you so much for having me on your program.

It’s been 46 days since the coup took over my country, Burma. And every day, people are protesting on the streets. And every day, they are being killed by the police and special forces. Like you mentioned, now we have over 2,200 political prisoners inside the prison, and some of them, we have no idea where they’re being detained. Some of them simply are disappeared, because they have no contacts with family members, and their family members haven’t been told their condition or their whereabouts.

And protesters keep coming out on the street calling for democracy and human rights, because we don’t want to live under another military dictatorship. They are risking arrest, and they know they will be shot when they go out on the street, but they’re still doing it. But the military is using increased violence against the peaceful protesters, and all the footage, as we’ve seen, on the ground is really heartbreaking.

And regarding my dad, he was arrested on the first day of the coup, on 1st of February. And since then, we have no idea where he’s being detained or his whereabouts. So, we are very worried about his condition, as well, you know, and also it’s very hard to see — this is his third arrest, so it’s very hard to see him being back in prison again.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Wai Hnin, although, as you said, it’s very difficult to know what the situation is of political prisoners, there have been reports from human rights groups that officials from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party have been badly tortured in prison, and two have died in custody. Could you talk about that?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: Yes. So, they are arresting NLD members, and they are arresting supporters of NLD, National League for Democracy party, as well. So, we have a lot of reports coming out from the country saying if they can’t find the person that they want to arrest, they are arresting family members. Sometimes that can be elderly moms, or that can be daughters of the person that they want. So, even if activists or NLD supporters go into hiding, they are risking their family members’ life, because the military is arresting anyone they can find.

And there are two types of arrests going on. So, they are targeting individuals, like activists, journalists and NLD members. But at the same time, they are doing mass arrests, especially during the night. There is no internet from 9:00 to early in the morning. So, during the night, they are doing nightly raids and arresting peaceful protesters, if they could find, and any activists that they could find. So, there are two types of arrests going on: one targeted and one mass arrests. So, that’s why, you know, it’s been 45 days, and we now have more than 2,200 people in prison.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Wai Hnin, could you also respond to the joint statement that was issued by the U.N. Security Council last week? All 15 members supported the statement, but critics have said that the statement should have been much stronger. And China was among the countries that opposed that stronger language, including calling what’s happened, the events, a coup, and possibly blocking punitive sanctions against the military government. Your response to last week’s statement?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: I would say that people inside the country are risking their lives. They are going out protesting. And they are calling — all the signs are written in English, because they want the international community to help. So, when we see statements from the U.N. Security Council and other international community, it started off being as an encouragement for us. But now, over a month, all these statements mean frustrations rather than encouragement, because we want the — we are calling for the international community to help because we know that they can. And we are calling them to do targeted sanctions on military companies and global arms embargoes.

Of course, China and Russia has always been the problem. But the argument is that, oh, China — the reality is China is using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council because, in return, they are getting cheap access to the natural resources we have in my country. So they are doing it for their own pocket. And as a country like the U.S. and the U.K., you have the power to lead other nations to follow with targeted economic sanctions on military companies. That’s why we are calling for international community help, because we know that you can help.

AMY GOODMAN: China and Russia did back the U.N. resolution condemning the violence. Is that right, Wai Hnin?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: Yes, but, of course, they know the statement has no sway over the military. They keep issuing statements after statements, “Oh, we condemn this violence. We condemn this arrest.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you —

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: But nothing has changed.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about that violence. And I want to warn our viewers that we’re going to show very graphic violence on the ground. But the level of the violence against the protesters, and just who the protesters are, the number of young people who are out on the streets, and also the way the protest is now filtering out through all of society in Burma, the farmers our in rural areas and others, Wai Hnin?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: Everyone is coming out on the street, because this is not the first time of our struggle for democracy. We have been through that many times before. And this time, people are very adamant that we don’t want to live under another military dictatorship. That’s why everyone is coming together, with different background, people from different ethnic background, religious background, coming together, calling for federal democracy.

And, of course, you know, if you’re cracking down on peaceful protesters, if you want to stop them, there are so many ways to shoot, or there are so many ways to stop peaceful protesters. But what they are actually doing is shooting people in the head, shoot to kill. And it’s not stopping the peaceful protests anymore. That’s pure killing. And, of course, you know, that’s why I said the statement has no impact on the military. They know that they can get away with it. And they are getting away with it so far, so the violence has escalated every single day.

AMY GOODMAN: And the number of people dead? Thousands?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: It’s over 200 now. We don’t know how many —

AMY GOODMAN: Two hundred dead and thousands arrested.

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: Yes. And we don’t know how many people have died or arrested in a remote area in ethnic states, because there is no way of communication or proper documentation going on in remote areas at the moment. So, the over 200 and 2,000 people in prison is the figures that we have.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Wai Hnin, could you also talk about — the World Food Programme, the U.N.'s World Food Programme, has warned that the situation in Burma risks pushing poor families into greater hunger. Burma is among the poorest countries in Asia. What do you know about the impact of what's happening on the most vulnerable in the country?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: It’s getting worse and worse. Of course, we have — it’s a very poor country. We don’t have any welfare system in the country. And at the same time as the protests, we also have a civil disobedience movement going on, which means people, civil servants, are not going to work. So, the military has been pushing to reopen schools, military hospitals and, you know, other — banks and other sectors. But the civil servants are saying, “No, we are not going back to work. This is our way of protesting against that.”

As much as it’s very encouraging to see that, but what I worry is how sustainable it is for the long term, because the people are very poor in remote area, or even in the cities area, and they have very little income coming from their job. And if they stop working, first couple of months, even though it’s not OK, they might be able to survive. But for the long term and how sustainable it is, it’s the worry we have. People will be poorer. There will be more people starving. And the situation doesn’t look good.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And before we end, you talked earlier about China’s role in this. Chinese factories have been — and businesses have been attacked in Burma. And earlier, China had actually been one of the only countries to defend Burma, when it was — defend Burma at the U.N. over its persecution of the Rohingya Muslim community. So, could you talk about how China is perceived among the protesters and whether China’s position on Burma has changed since the military coup?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: China has always been the supporter for the military, and they’re also providing technical support for the military in terms of surveillance and other technology, so they are — because they are getting cheap access to natural resources in Burma, and they are doing a lot of investment inside the country, so they are building dams. While doing that, they are forcing ethnic people and local people out of their villages. So there are a lot of human rights violations surrounding Chinese investment in the country. So, there is a — you know, people in Burma don’t like those human rights violations. And, of course, seeing China vetoing everything that — putting forward at the U.N. Security Council, it angered people inside the country, as well.

But, you know, when it comes to China, there is always an argument that, “Oh, we need to engage with the military, because” — you know, by the international community, is that, “Oh, we can’t talk about human rights abuses. It will drive Burma into China’s arms.” But by not talking about it, you are actually driving Burma into China’s arms. So that’s why we are asking countries like the U.S. and the U.K. to base their foreign policy on principle of human rights and democracy and support people inside the country, rather than arguing, you know, “Oh, China is the blockage,” because there are so many ways that you can do to help, and China is not the main problem.

AMY GOODMAN: As we go out, Wai Hnin, have you had any word from your father? And a brief history of him, which really is a history of modern-day Burma?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: We have no news about my dad, and we have no communication at all. And the first time he was arrested, it was — you know, I was 5 months old. And when I saw him, I was 4 years old. It was through iron bars. So, this is another history repeating inside the country. There are so many children going through what I went through, not knowing when they will see their parents again and not knowing, you know, who the parent is. Growing up without knowing who your parent is, it’s the heartbreaking situation. And it’s a history repeating itself. That’s why we are very adamant that we don’t want to live under another military dictatorship, and we don’t want to go through that ever again.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Wai Hnin, very quickly, before we end, the question about China earlier defending Burma at the U.N. over its persecution of the Rohingya Muslim community?

WAI HNIN PWINT THON: China has always defended about the human rights violations committed by the military. And, of course, although the U.N. fact-finding mission called the Rohingya genocide as a genocide, the international community have done nothing about it. That’s why Min Aung Hlaing and his army is thinking they got away with genocide of the Rohingyas, so now they can get away with staging the coup. So their calculation is that, “Oh, international response is weak. We can do what we want.” And they’re doing exactly that on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Wai Hnin, we want to thank you for being with us, Burmese human rights activist with Burma Campaign UK, the daughter of a political prisoner in jail right now. It’s not his first time. We’ll of course continue to follow the situation on the ground in Burma.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, are the U.S. and U.K. leading to a new nuclear arms race? Stay with us.

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