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Event organizers of Karen Martyrs’ Day event facing charges

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Kyauktada Township police have charged 3 people, including event leader Naw Ohn Hla for holding the Karen Martyrs’ Day ceremony between Yangon City Hall and Maha Bandula Park without permission from the Yangon government.

Naw Ohn Hla at the ceremony of 69th Karen Martyr’s Day in Yangon (photo: Naw Ohn Hla/Facebook)
Naw Ohn Hla at the ceremony of 69th Karen Martyr’s Day in Yangon (photo: Naw Ohn Hla/Facebook)

The Karen Women Union’s chair, Naw Ohn Hla wrote the following post on her Facebook account. “Kyauktada Township police called me and said they have charged for organizing the Karen Martyrs’ Day between Yangon City Hall and Maha Bandula Park without permission from the Yangon government”.

According to a police authority’s interview with RFA news, the police confirmed they charged Naw Ohn Hla under the Peaceful Assembly Act (20).

The ceremony of the 69th Karen Martyr’s Day took place in downtown Yangon in the morning of August 12. Participants lowered the Karen national flag to half-mast, read a message [letter] and laid a wreath of flowers to pay respect to those who gave their lives in the Karen revolution. Those attending in support of the ceremony then marched around Maha Bandula Park.

“The event was supposed to be in the city hall, but I would say it is the Yangon government who offered us no other options than holding the event on the street, so the government is the one who is accountable for this issue. This incident has provoked a decline of trust in the peace process implementation” added Naw Ohn Hla in a subsequent Facebook post.

Organizers of the event reported their proposal to hold a ceremony for Karen Martyr’s Day was denied by the Yangon government a month ago. According to Naw Ohn Hla, because the Yangon government did not provide an approval, no other venues dared offer their spaces to host the planned event. She feels that pressure was also applied on the monk at Magway Monastery in Northern Dagon, resulting in that ceremony being canceled. Despite these difficulties, Naw Ohn Hla added the organizers received a majority vote from their constituency to hold the event on the street.

Naw Ohn Hla expressed to media reporters attending the August 12 event that in her opinion, it is questionable that authorities just want to ban the use of the term “Karen Martyr’s Day”. She indicated that the process of “Burmanization”, an informal set of practices, policies and laws have the effect of washing away another’s identity.

“What is the country moving forward for since Karen including all ethnic minorities in Myanmar could not express their aspects, beliefs and commemorate their leaders independently? Are we on the path towards Democratic Federal or Federal Union? Or we want to follow the direction of a Democratic Dictatorship system? I have noticed so many concerns related to that,” said Saw Tun Tun, a member of ceremony organizing committee.

Although the Karen Martyr’s Day ceremonies have been held smoothly in places where Karen people reside; the Karen National Union (KNU), the Democratic Karen Buddhist (DKBA), and the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) have all signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which enables authorities to exercise restrictions on holding the event in some places dating back to 2018.

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