Mon 14 Jul 2014
Filed under: Inside Burma,Naypyitaw,Opinion
(1) Military Intelligence (MI) cast a black shadow over Myanmar for 16 years. From 1988 to 2004, everyone lived under the threat of MI – before it and its leader, former General Khin Nyunt, were finally toppled. People in politics, the media, business, social organizations and artists feared MI. Even it they did not want to associate with MI they had to; it was everywhere.
In 2004, when MI was toppled, members of the State Peace and Development Council made it clear that MI had been reigned in. They included General Thura Shwe Mann, now speaker of Parliament’s lower house, Prime Minister Lt-General Soe Win (deceased) and our current president, then-Secretary-1 Lt-General Thein Sein.
“There is no military intelligence above the law,” Thura Shwe Mann said at the time.
Now, however, memories of MI’s activities are being revived. The fear of upsetting MI is now similar to the fear of the President’s Office and the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC).
Residents of some regions are said to be as afraid of representatives of the MPC or the President’s Office as people were of MI.
Incidents that have occurred over the last few days have revived the memory of the black shadow cast by MI.
Journalists may face charges under Section 18 for staging a silent protest and marching in front of the Myanmar Peace Center on July 12.
The point of their protest was to raise concerns about the arrest and interrogation of reporters who have been charged, arrested, interrogated or sentenced illegally.
These journalists were acting in accord with rights enshrined in the 2008 Constitution, but face charges under Section 18. After this incident, rumours began spreading that some MPC directors are involved in the charges against the journalists.
A meeting between the President and artists was held on July 12 at the MPC. The day before journalists had arranged to express their view while covering the event so the president could know it.
However, the threat that the journalists would be jailed if they staged a protest at the MPC emerged. According to the chief reporter of 7Day newspaper Aung Thura, it was made by MPC director Min Zaw Oo. His comments were posted on Facebook by Shwe Inn Tha and Khin Maung.
Min Zaw Oo posted a status saying he would protect his own news source on his Facebook account. This point strengthened the suspicions that he said journalists would be sent to prison for protesting. (Min Zaw Oo suggested on his Facebook account on July 13 that he did not intend to suggest this.)
The journalists expressed their opinion at the MPC as planned on July 12 so that they could let the President know about the situation journalists’ face. It was not a protest, but following the intervention of police the journalists scrambled.
Authorities had no plan to open a file against the journalists who expressed their stance that afternoon, but news of a file had been opened against the journalists under Section 18 came out in the evening. Subsequently, the news became certain. The reasons included “an instruction from upper levels”, but it was not known from where.
Journalists expressed their views on what they believed were unfair events. We did not say that the reporters from Unity Journal who were jailed were right to report what they did. We meant that the case and the punishment were unfair. We do not mean that the journalists of Bi Mon Te Nay Journal were right to report what they did, but we say they were unfairly and unlawfully arrested, without informing the interim Myanmar Press Council.
Similarly, reporter Ma Khine of Eleven Media Group was jailed and DVB reporter Zaw Pe was also sentenced to a prison term. Both cases could have been settled with fines, but authorities preferred jail terms.
When reviewing recent actions taken against journalists, it is clear that the cases and punishment have been unfair and unlawful.
These actions appear to be threats against press freedom, which is similar to tactics used by the dictators.
Recently, Aung Naing Oo, a director of the Myanmar Peace Centre, had a word with a friend of his about the media in which he allegedly identified six “enemies”. Only Aung Naing Oo knows whether these unconfirmed reports are true.
If Zaw Min Oo and Aung Naing Oo really talked about imprisonment of reporters who staged a protest and the six enemies, we can assume that the MPC regards the media as an enemy, and questions are rising as to whether the MPC stirred a problem between the president and the media.
The MPC used to nurture some journalists as its stooges. They tried to give “their news” secretly. But every journalist did not nod to what they wanted. When their weaknesses were pointed out frequently, they started to regard the media as their enemy.
Hearsay from the MPC suggested that if this type of news continued, the media would become an enemy of the state.
We must be clear: Any attempt to oppress and threaten the media and regard reporters as enemies is a stance taken by those who want dictatorship, or those who wish to be stooges of authoritarians.
For this point, it is important to consider what people want. Former intelligence officers have told me that MPC looks like former Military Intelligence. What they meant, is that the MPC is using more power than it has.
The former intelligence officers said that MI had three priorities. First, it tried to have its image in the public’s view continuously. Second, it relied on propaganda using multiple techniques with swift and intelligent implementation. Third, they investigated what people needed and then gave them some of what they needed so that they could better control what they wanted.
MPC has invited politicians back from exile and used them for its needs. They met both legal and illegal armed ethnic groups for “peace talks”. When they know the group does not want to be on their side, they gave it incentives for corruption. They described those who did not follow their lead as hard-liners or self-opinionated. The MPC is responsbile for the issuance of peace permits for automobiles, which caused a huge public loss. Armed ethnic groups that agreed with the MPC received those peace permits plus other opportunities.
The MPC employed incentives and opportunities to welcome back anti-government politicians in exile. The exiled politicians who returned to Myanmar via the MPC know this fact.
Moreover, the MPC got involved in issues unrelated to its apparent mandate. For example, it took a role in arranging a meeting between the president and representatives from social and economic fields on July 12.
Some members of the MPC have top positions in President Thein Sein’s advisory body. We can deduce from the President’s speeches that the motives of his advisors are quite anxious.
Moreover, people who have backed the MPC and the presidential advisors are concerned that they are pushing the country to the edge. Are advisors deceiving the President?
The president’s recent dialogue between celebrities has been shameful. He said that if the government could not modernise theatres in Yangon and Mandalay to facilitate films, concerts and plays, foreign assistance would be sought. As the Chinese are used to building infrastructure, he said he would request aid from the Chinese premier. He also called on movie stars to make a solemn wish for this.
Parliament would not agree to fund this arts program with the government’s budget, he said.
I do not understand what lead the president to say such things. His words fall short of those one would expect from a head of sate, and seem to come from a leader who lacks political sense.
From the point of view of a citizen his comments were shameful. If a reasonable proposal for arts funding were submitted to the parliament, it would be debated and considered. Instead, the president side-stepped Parliament and pledged to ask for foreign assistance. It left me wondering whether or not Myanmar belonged once again to an imperial power.
Although celebrities who lack political sense hailed the president’s comments, citizens with a higher level of political awareness will not accept them.
Likewise, there are questions as to whether the MPC dominated presidential advisory group is pushing the president and the country to the edge.
They do not have to ask China’s help to build or renovate theatres. If the government placed a 30 per cent surtax of the total value of the gems sold in the recent jade and jewellery emporium – reportedly US$3.4 billion – it would reap about $1 billion in revenue.
In addition, there is revenue from selling oil and natural gases. During President Thein Sein’s administration, crony tycoons have acquired privileges to extract natural resources. If the government takes its full share of revenues from them, it will not have to ask for anyone’s help.
The logging industry is one example. As the export of timber has been banned, proprietors rushed to reap exports of wood that was equivalent to a three-year quota in a single year.
Those who praise the president’s speeches often have close ties to the former MI.
U Zargana, who facilitated the July 12 gathering, had links with military intelligence. Now they are connected with the Myanmar Peace Centre.
The MPC and Military Intelligence both befriend those who don’t see eye to eye with the government by giving incentives. They also attempt to use power to influence everything, even the smallest things. The next item is financial. In the case of MI, they had problems in income and expenditure.
The most important thing at present is a transparent accounting of MPC’s finances. There is no official statement on these or they still don’t submit the matter to Parliament. According to the unconfirmed reports, MPC has received more than $130 million. Parliament doesn’t know how this money is spent or used.
People from home and abroad have former colleagues working at MPC: for example former members of the All Burma Students Democratic Front and former opposition politicians. Their comments are widely seen on social media. It can be said that their reputations are less than stellar.
Despite all of its apparent activity, the MPC cannot find success in its objective: the peace process. It is getting involved in one thing after another that is not its concern. Members of armed ethnic armies and nationals do not trust the MPC. Many speak openly about their distrust; others suggest it.
The NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, ethnic national races, political parties, the public and journalists who lived through the era of Military Intelligence know why these kinds of questions are appearing. The current Speaker of the Union Parliament Thura Shwe Mann and top military leaders also know the reasons.
No one is above the law. Journalists or the president or the Parliament or the government are not above the law, but is the MPC above the law or it is above the president? The MPC has to answer questions about it.
If, like MI’s members, its representatives face allegations of taking bribes or misusing power they will surely be removed.
After MI was removed, two people are left who were among those who removed it. They are President Thein Sein and Union Parliament speaker Thura Shwe Mann.
Now, the question is how can we prevent the MPC from getting involved in politics, and economic and social sectors as MI did. How can we solve the mistakes and bad attitude of some MPC members? This is the right time to find a solution.