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Benedict Rogers

Myanmar junta’s mind games call for global action

This is a regime, after all, that just a week ago shot a Catholic priest while he was celebrating Mass
Published: April 19, 2024 04:19 AM GMT

Updated: April 19, 2024 04:32 AM GMT

Relatives gather around a bus carrying prisoners being released from Insein prison for the Buddhist New Year, in Yangon on April 17. Myanmar's junta has announced a pardon for more than 3,300 prisoners under a regular amnesty to mark the country's traditional new year festival.

Relatives gather around a bus carrying prisoners being released from Insein prison for the Buddhist New Year, in Yangon on April 17. Myanmar's junta has announced a pardon for more than 3,300 prisoners under a regular amnesty to mark the country's traditional new year festival. (Photo: AFP)

Myanmar’s brutal, criminal military dictatorship doesn’t only like raping, bombing, shooting and killing people, destroying churches and schools and burning villages. It also enjoys playing tricks and mind games as made clear once again in the past 48 hours.

Two days ago while in Krakow, Poland, I received the news that my friend Reverend Dr. Hkalam Samson, former president of the Kachin Baptist Convention and one of the most high-profile and courageous Christian leaders in Myanmar, had been released from prison after 16 months behind bars.

I received happy messages from Kachin friends, along with photographs of a smiling Reverend Samson, reunited with his wife and family, holding flowers as he greeted well-wishers. He looked thinner than when I last saw him five years ago, but at least he was free.

At the same time, the media were reporting that Aung San Suu Kyi, the 78-year-old legitimate elected leader, who has spent the past three years in prison since her elected government was overthrown in a coup d’etat on Feb. 1, 2021, was being moved to house arrest.

Her whereabouts were unknown. She remained in detention. But at least — or so it was hoped — the conditions of her imprisonment would be eased slightly. Given her reported ill health, such a move — even though her detention is entirely unjust — would have been a welcome step in the circumstances.

Suu Kyi should, of course, be unconditionally and completely released, but short of that any improvement in her well-being is to be welcomed.

"The cruelty with which General Min Aung Hlaing and his murderous thugs and cronies behave appears to know no bounds"

Yet 24 hours later, these small flickers of light appear to have been reversed.

Within hours of his release, Reverend Samson was reportedly re-arrested, and this time his wife has also been detained.

And now it is being reported that Suu Kyi’s house arrest may be untrue, and she remains in jail.

The cruelty with which General Min Aung Hlaing and his murderous thugs and cronies behave appears to know no bounds.

Not only do they show disdain for human life, liberty, and dignity, but they are now playing with emotions. And if I have been on an emotional roller-coaster over the past 48 hours, think of it as nothing compared with what the families of these two individuals — and all political prisoners in Myanmar whose fate is unknown — are going through.

Of course, I knew that the overall human rights tragedy in Myanmar had not changed one inch, but for me, it brought the starfish story to mind.

You know, the one about an old man walking along the seashore at dawn and noticing a young man stooping down and picking up stranded starfish from the beach and throwing them back into the sea.

“Why are you doing that,” the old man asked.

"One of Myanmar’s most eloquent voices for peace and most passionate human rights defenders, is once again detained"

“If I don’t, they will be stranded, and the heat of the sun will kill them,” the young man explained.

The old man replied: “But the beach goes on for miles and there are millions of starfish. What difference does it make?”

Stooping down, picking up and throwing another starfish into the sea, the young man answered: “It makes a difference to that one.”

Yet the next day, the military had stranded that starfish — Reverend Samson — once again.

A man who is one of the most humble, courageous and inspiring men I know, and one of Myanmar’s most eloquent voices for peace and most passionate human rights defenders, is once again detained — after being allowed a few hours of comparative ‘freedom.’

Suu Kyi, having won re-election in November 2020, should have been approaching the final year of her second term in office as the de facto head of government in Myanmar. Instead, she has spent over three years in jail, in inhumane conditions.

Denied adequate medical care and refused almost all contact with her family, she has been almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. This once global icon has been outrageously and unfairly relegated to history.

A regime that can jail an elected leader and a prominent religious figure, both internationally known, connected and respected, deserves the utmost condemnation of the international community.

"For this evil regime, even fig leaves can be waved in the air and then torn up"

But condemnation is not enough.

Further concerted, tough, targeted action is needed. We need to further target — and tighten — sanctions against the junta, to cut off its lifeline of finances and arms.

We need greater efforts toward justice, accountability, truth and reconciliation.

We need to increase efforts to provide a lifeline of humanitarian aid to Myanmar’s displaced and impoverished peoples.

We must bring Myanmar’s crisis further up the world agenda, even though it is already overloaded with crises given the wars in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza.

And we must pray, for Suu Kyi, for Reverend Samson and for all the people of Myanmar: every single day.

The events of the past 48 hours have proven that for this evil regime, even fig leaves can be waved in the air and then torn up.

This is a regime, after all, that just a week ago shot a Catholic priest while he was celebrating Mass.

Father Paul Khwi Shane Aung was gunned down in St Patrick’s Church in Mohnyin, Kachin State by masked assailants and immediately rushed to hospital.

I knelt in prayer in Krakow in front of the bloodstained cassock of Pope St John Paul II — the one he wore when he was shot in St Peter’s Square and survived the assassination attempt — and I prayed for Aung San Suu Kyi, Reverend Samson and Myanmar.

I pray I don’t have to kneel in front of any more bloodstained garments until the country I love, where I became a Catholic on Palm Sunday 11 years ago, can finally find the freedom, justice, democracy and peace it deserves and has for too long been denied.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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