Tag Archives: Rangoon

Unwanted news, Rangoon electricity & irrationality

rangoon electricity

Burma’s government claims to welcome complaints about malpractice, inefficiency and corruption against those in public service. But a recent case of a man imprisoned for repeatedly complaining about electricity problems speaks to how easy it is in an irrational system for the complainant, not the government officials, to wind up in trouble.

In early August, U Khin Maung Kyi called the electric supply corporation in his suburb of Rangoon a number of times to complain about a surge in power at his house. It was not the first time that he had called to make a complaint, and the township supply director had already lodged a criminal case with a local court, alleging that the 45-year-old’s repeated calls were obstructing his staff from performing their duties.

This time, Khin Maung Kyi argued with the duty officer, who refused to give his name or let him speak with his superior. Khin Maung Kyi then threatened to make a complaint to higher levels. Later, when asked about this in court, the official admitted that the caller had not used offensive language or made unlawful threats, but testified that his manner was impolite and that his calls were an inconvenience.

The director might have thought that, by lodging a case in court, he would put Khin Maung Kyi off making more calls. In any event, after this latest incident, he put the local state apparatus into movement against the annoying resident. Continue reading

Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon

thoughtcrime1

A court in Rangoon on March 5 sentenced three men who didn’t know each other to a decade’s imprisonment for a crime that they never committed – or rather, for a crime so nebulous that if any of them had ever used a computer he wouldn’t know if he had committed it or not.

The three, Win Maw, Zaw Min and Aung Zaw Myo, were accused of sending news about the September 2007 protests in Burma through the Internet. All were already in jail for other purported crimes.

The next day, police in Bangkok came to one of Thailand’s few outspoken and credible media outlets, Prachatai, searched the premises and arrested its director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn. She is accused of having failed to patrol, censor and delete the comments that readers left on a news website.

The police have charged Chiranuch under the Computer Crime Act 2007, which is only an “act” to the extent that the assembly of handpicked military stooges that passed it could be considered a legislature. According to this law, the importing of “false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage” to a third party or the public or “is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” can land the accused a five-year jail term.

Now let’s compare that with Burma’s Electronic Transactions Law 2004, Continue reading

Who isn’t bombing Rangoon

When news spread that in the early hours of Oct. 13 a passenger vehicle had exploded in suburban Rangoon killing seven, the first response of some people was that it must have been another in the latest series of bombings to rock the former capital.

It turned out that the blast was the result of a natural gas cylinder crammed between the driver and tray in the manner of most fuel-converted trucks and vans in Burma, to the dismay of those squeezed in alongside.

But it was not long before the bombs started again. On Saturday, a small one went off at a football ground in Yankin, causing minor damage. On Sunday, another in Shwepyithar killed a man who, according to the state media, was building the device.

These followed a number of other incidents in September that left at least seven persons wounded. Bombs also earlier exploded at the main railway station, and near the high-class Traders Hotel and the town hall.

There is a lot of talk going around about who might be behind this new campaign. Some exiled opponents of the regime suggest, as in previous years, that it could be elements of the security forces. Others suspect renegade activists who have lost patience with both nonviolent resistance and the jungle-based insurgencies of old.

One person who wasn’t involved is U Myint Aye. That’s because he’s in jail accused of planting a bomb at the branch office of a government organizing body in July. It’s an odd turn of events for the 57-year-old chairman of Burma’s only out-and-out domestic rights group, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters. Continue reading

Rangoon rent-a-witness

Win Maw (above) was always running a risk by sending news from the protests in Rangoon to an overseas radio station last year. But when the police caught up with him in November, they had a problem. He hadn’t actually done anything illegal.

As it is not an offense for someone in Burma to contact a foreign broadcaster, the investigating officer in Win Maw’s case had to stretch the law quite some distance to come up with an alleged crime. In the end, he chose a highly malleable section of the criminal code on upsetting public tranquility, one that has been used against many people in Burma since last year and one that can be stretched very far indeed.

But this decision should have introduced some new problems. The section on public tranquility requires the police to show that the accused either intended to or did in fact upset public tranquility through his behavior. It is not enough for them to merely prove that Win Maw was sending news abroad. They have to demonstrate that he did so with a specific intent or desired result.

In March, the Special Branch officer handling the case, Police Major Ye Nyunt, submitted his complaint to the court. In it, he claimed that Win Maw had upset public tranquility specifically by sending false news overseas that would alarm the public. So it follows that this is what would need to be proven in court, through evidence revealing the contents of what he sent and its conceivable consequences.

Or so it would be if Burma had a sane legal system. That it does not is apparent from what was brought to the court in lieu of the requisite proof. Continue reading

The price of being a judge in Rangoon

The June edition of the New Era Journal, a Burmese-language monthly published in Bangkok, carried a letter from an unnamed senior lawyer practicing in South Dagon, greater Rangoon.

According to the author, to be selected for the test to become an apprentice judge these days a lawyer needs to pay the selecting panel 3 million kyat – upwards of US$2,500. The writer lamented that although senior judges know about this they turn a blind eye.

The claim is interesting but not remarkable. In Burma, where people have to put up extra cash for everything from a mobile phone permit to a hospital bed, or even a mat on the floor, why not also for a court verdict? After all, the judges have paid to get their posts, and surely expect something in return.

When an advocate practicing in Rangoon was asked a while ago roughly how much it costs to win an ordinary criminal case he laughed and replied with his own questions, as to which type of case, involving who as the defendant and victim, and in which township or district it would be heard. His intricate knowledge of brokering now rivals his knowledge of the law itself.

That Burma’s courts are places where services are provided to the person with the highest offer is also unsurprising when they are compared to those in the country’s neighbors. From Bangladesh to Indonesia, judges cut deals and entertain proposals that have nothing to do with their job descriptions. Continue reading

No show trials for protestors

Over a week ago, the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an appeal on behalf of U Ohn Than, who is imprisoned in Kamti in upper Burma. The 60-year-old was among the few who protested last August against the government’s unannounced dramatic increase in fuel prices, precipitating the historic monk-led revolt in September.

Ohn Than went out alone, standing opposite the U.S. Embassy in the center of Rangoon with a placard that called for United Nations’ intervention and pleaded for the armed forces and police to join in efforts to topple the junta. (VIDEO)

His protest did not last long. Within a few minutes an unidentified vehicle pulled up and a group of men threw him inside and drove away. For the public, that was it. For Ohn Than, it was only the beginning. Continue reading

Cyclone relief no laughing matter

On the night of June 4, a group of police officers came to a house in suburban Rangoon, searched it and took away one of the occupants. But the person they took is not a wanted robber, murderer or escapee. He is a comedian.

Although Zarganar (pictured above at left, with fellow actor and social activist Kyaw Thu) is famous in Burma for his antics on stage and screen, he has not been joking much lately. Instead, he has been at the front of local efforts to get relief to where it has been needed most since Cyclone Nargis swept through his country a month ago.

Zarganar, whose adopted name means “pincers”, has thrown everything into the relief effort, organising hundreds of volunteers in dozens of villages to help in giving out food, water, clothes and other basic necessities to thousands of people.

His sister told Voice of America that he had sold his and his wife’s mobile phones to use the money for the work, and that as the monsoon is setting in they had just purchased seeds to distribute in order that villagers who have nothing to plant might at least grow vegetables and stave off hunger.

He has also been a vocal critic of the government response to the cyclone, constantly pointing to the shortfalls in assistance and needs of survivors.

“The odor [of death] sticks with us when we come back from the villages,” Zarganar told The Irrawaddy news service on June 2, a full month after the cyclone struck. Continue reading

Sailors detained for abandoning ship mid-cyclone

(Latest roundup of some Burmese language news reports on Cyclone Nargis; photo: a Light Infantry Division 77 “refugee relief camp” in Kunchangone; source: The Irrawaddy)

There are all sorts of news reports coming from Burma speaking to the twisted priorities that characterise dictatorship. Apart from holding a referendum and chasing after the usual internal and external destructive elements, authorities in the delta have according to Yoma 3 detained sailors who left their docked ships at the height of the cyclone. The news service reports that the naval officers and seamen jumped ship at the Thilawar Pier during the storm, as they like others had not been adequately warned of its approach. An unnamed naval officer told Yoma 3 that,

“Twenty-three men from those on vessel duty at Thilawar, including officers, have been detained at the Irrawaddy Naval Headquarters. It’s understood that they’re to be charged with abandoning ship. I know that some of them have been kept under house arrest. In the fierce storm some went ashore and took to high ground. Some also disappeared. It’s not known if they disappeared in the water or if they deserted and didn’t send word.”

Yoma 3 says that eight naval craft sunk during the storm although there has been no official comment on this, which has reportedly caused disgruntlement in the navy. The lost vessels were stationed at the Irrawaddy, Pyapon and Bogalay bases, among others. It also says that around 3000 naval families are believed to have had their homes damaged or destroyed in the cyclone and so far there has been no systematic effort to start rebuilding them.

Meanwhile, while Burma’s state newspapers are insisting that “some foreign news agencies [have] broadcast false information… that the Government has been rejecting and preventing aids for storm victims”, it’s not difficult to find specific complaints that it has been doing just that. Not only overseas donors but also those from within the country are encountering more obstacles. Continue reading

Steal big, steal little

(Latest roundup of some Burmese language news reports on Cyclone Nargis)

(ลักเล็ก ขโมยใหญ่)

International groups in Burma are reportedly acknowledging that the army is “diverting” or “pilfering” aid (euphemisms for thieving) to Cyclone Nargis victims but are declining to give details for fear that they will be locked out completely.

Much of the concern is rightly with the army stealing big at the top end of the chain. But there will be theft at every level and among all agencies. An article by Yoma 3 has an example of stealing little in Kyimyindaing, just across the river from Rangoon, where village council officials are allegedly taking relief supplies being sent for homeless villagers. According to one,

“On the 14th, there was donating through the Red Cross for refugees at Dalechaung village. When the donors were present, there were 17 mosquito nets, yet when given by raffle to the villagers there were only 10. Where’d the other seven go? When the villagers investigated they found that the three-village chairman U Kyaw Soe took two, and fire brigade chief Aung Min, Tin Oo of USDA, then fireman Sein Hlaing took one each. The other [two] couldn’t be located.”

According to the villager, U Kyaw Soe is refusing to allow aid to be distributed to the villagers from outside without his involvement. A donor told Yoma 3 that 44 houses in Dalechaung were washed away as the river rose during the storm. The others are without rooves and the villagers are staying in an old rice warehouse but have been told that they will be thrown out. Maybe they have to go and vote.

To be sure, under the circumstances this is a very small theft, and the families of the officials may themselves be in need, but as this sort of behaviour will be repeated everywhere, the question for international aid groups is, if 10 out of 17 items delivered to the local level (from an unknown number originally) reach the people who really need them, is that enough? Continue reading

Citizens helping, officials hindering

(Latest roundup of some Burmese language reports following Cyclone Nargis

As the military regime in Burma continues to obstruct relief efforts from abroad, and especially hamper foreign staff of aid groups (see the latest news about this on The Irrawaddy) most of the news in Burmese language reports has been about the efforts of fellow citizens to help the victims of the disaster, the obstacles that government officials are also putting in their paths, and the lack of help getting through to some areas.

According to Yoma 3 News, monks in Mandalay who have been collecting items and money to donate to victims have been asked by the authorities there to donate through official channels, but have refused. A monk told Yoma 3 that

“We are collecting things at the Mandalay Maha Gandharyone Monastery. About four days back the divisional head came to the monastery and said to give them the things; that they would be delivered through them. The Gandharyone temple didn’t accept this.”

The items collected at the temple include clothes, clean water and rice. One lot of items had already been sent successfully and the temple is now preparing for a second round.

The efforts of Kyaw Thu’s social welfare group and comedian Zarganar together with some prominent actors and others have also been reported on.

However, there are still seriously affected areas where no aid has been received eleven days after the cyclone. According to the New Era Journal, in Kunchangone, which is only some 30 miles from Rangoon, virtually no help has arrived and there is now an outbreak of cholera.

An eyewitness from a group of private citizens who went to the riverside area about three miles from the town, including villages Kyunchaung, Kayan, Tawkyi, Tawkayan and Thonehkwa, told the journal that

“It’s totally demolished. Nothing can be done with the houses that are lying flattened on the ground. People are sitting around nearby looking. Nothing has arrived yet for rebuilding the rooves. No food or medicine has arrived yet. The corpses are just lined up along a steep hillside. Dead people, dead cows, dead buffaloes, none of the dead can be cleared away. There’s quite a stink. Up to yesterday there were clearly yet more washed up further along the riverbank.” Continue reading

Where are Burma’s neighbours?

In the days since Cyclone Nargis passed through Burma on May 2 and 3, bringing a tidal surge with it to the delta region that has literally swept away hundreds of villages, it has become painfully obvious that the country’s government is completely unable to deal with what has happened.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, local residents in somewhat affected areas, including Rangoon, banded together to do everything from clearing roads to distributing emergency supplies of water and food. In many rural areas, monks have taken charge as thousands of people have converged on monasteries, which are among the sturdiest buildings and which often have stockpiles of donated wood, food and other necessities.

The lack of any official presence in these parts has been striking in a country where government agents, in and out of uniform, are normally omnipresent. But the absurdity, ineptitude and persistent greed that characterize so much administrative conduct in Burma have in some areas become most apparent after soldiers, police and bureaucrats have finally turned up.

In one part of Rangoon, a fistfight reportedly broke out when outraged locals saw that water tankers were delivering supplies to the homes of council members and military officers but not to anyone else.

At Pazundaung, a unit of soldiers went to nearby houses to ask for machetes with which to cut fallen trees. Their commander demanded a car to oversee his men and shopkeepers were called upon to give chains with which to drag timber from the road.

In the worst affected areas, flattened villages and ruined crops are still littered with bodies and not a single person has turned up to assist. Many places, such as Laputta, remain partly submerged and the numbers of the dead and missing not yet entered into the daily rising tallies.

So where are Burma’s neighbors? Not long after the storm struck, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s secretary-general, the former foreign minister of Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan, called on the other nine member states to give generously, and hoped the same of its partners, which include heavyweights China, South Korea and Japan. (See news of his latest statement.)

His appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Continue reading

Hospitals turning away patients

(Update of some Burmese language reports on Cyclone Nargis’ aftermath)

Hospitals in Rangoon are being forced to turn away patients because of a lack of electricity and water. According to an employee at the general hospital (pictured above, in happier times), who spoke to Thailand-based Yoma 3 News by phone,

“There are only two power lines. The radiotherapy department had to discharge 30 patients because it has no electricity. Because of transport problems patients can’t get to the outpatients department (either).”

On last Sunday a pregnant woman going in to labour was refused admission to the emergency department and referred to the SSC special medical centre. Because the centre had no water the patient had to buy bottled water outside and give it in order to get treated. Continue reading