Five Buddhist monks have been protesting in the city of Mandalay, central Burma, since Tuesday morning. From the balcony of a monastery, they unfurled large banners calling for peace and the immediate release of all political prisoners. Protests by monks are extremely rare in Burma; this is believed to be the first since the brutal crackdown on mass protests led by monks in 2007
On Monday, Burmese authorities decided to postpone the much-anticipated release
of thousands of political prisoners. The five Mandalay monks are now calling for the government to make good on its word. Nearly 500 people showed up in front of the monks’ monastery Tuesday to show their support and hear the monks speak. Mizzima, a news agency which covers Burmese news from Thailand, reported that plainclothes police officers were present, but did not interrupt the rally.
The five monks are expected to make more speeches on Wednesday, but at a different monastery in Mandalay, at the request of local religious leaders. The monks say they plan to continue their protest on Thursday.
Over the last year the Burmese authorities have given multiple signs that they want to open up to the rest of the world – and that they no longer want to be subjected to economic sanctions. They have invited many exiled Burmese citizens to return, and in October announced that political prisoners would be freed on November 14. However, according to a senior government official, their release has been indefinitely postponed.
“I don’t think their protest will be brutally repressed like in 2007”
Than Win Htut lives in Norway. He works for Democratic Voice of Burma, one of the few media outlets that manage to get images of Burma out to the rest of the world.
We know one of the protesting monks very well. He lives in Germany and sometimes works in Thailand.
It seems that this protest was very well prepared. Their right to protest is written in the 2008 constitution. [According to the constitution, the Burmese are not allowed to protest on the streets; however they are allowed to strike and create unions.]
I don’t think their protest will be brutally repressed, like the Saffron revolution of 2007
. However, if they did not exactly abide by the laws, for example by not warning authorities of their protest ahead of time, then the police will no doubt shut them down.
Political forces haven’t been freed because different factions of the government are currently fighting each other. The old guard and the reformists are having tense talks, so it’s difficult for them to agree on making this big move right now.