Organizers Say They Will Commemorate Karen Martyrs’ Day—With or Without Authorities’ Approval

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Organizers of the 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day say the commemoration will take place in Yangon on Wednesday regardless of whether the Burmese authorities give permission for the event.

Police officers have reportedly told organizers that the event will not be allowed to go ahead.

“We already reported it. Whether they allow the event depends on them. They can decide whatever they want, but we will hold the commemoration of Martyrs’ Day,” Sa Thein Zaw Min, an organizer of the day, told NMG. “We will follow COVID-19 health guidelines when we hold the commemoration. We won’t use loudspeakers. We will salute Karen leaders and lay wreaths,” he explained.

Organizers said that they informed members of the Kyauktada Township police station on August 9 about the upcoming Karen Martyrs’ Day event.

“If they want to practice equality, they must allow it,” Naw Ohn Hla, a leader of the Democracy and Peace Women’s Network (DPWN), told NMG. “We told them we came to inform them about it, but we didn’t come to request permission. We commemorated Karen Martyrs’ Day last year even though they didn’t allow it.”

According to organizers, police said such an event could be considered only after COVID-19 was no longer a threat.

“They will consider it after the COVID-19 period. We complained that many other people have held events [during this period]. Why? They could not answer our question,” Min Nay Htoo, who also works with the DPWN, said. “They didn’t say that they wouldn’t allow the event for the reason of COVID-19. They said that we needed to seek permission after the COVID-19 period.”

Naw Ohn Hla described the honoring of Karen Martyrs’ Day as a matter of ethnic rights, and pointed to the recent public commemorations of Burmese Martyrs’ Day on July 19, and of August 8, 1988, a day which marked pro-democracy student uprisings.

“If they do not allow it, it means they are practicing ethnic domination, because ethnic [minorities] cannot hold their respective Martyrs’ Days,” she explained. “I feel it’s unfair for us.”

The Karen community commemorated Martyrs’ Day in front of the Yangon City Hall on August 12, 2019. Naw Ohn Hla, Sa Thein Zaw Min, and another activist, Saw Elbert Cho, were arrested after using the term “Karen martyr,” which authorities had prohibited from being used to describe slain Karen revolutionary leader Saw Ba U Gyi. They were charged with organizing an illegal gathering and sentenced to 15 days in prison on October 2, after already serving well over that time.