December 14, 2013
An Amnesty International Southeast Asia Campaigner recently explained how a passion for Myanmar led her to become an Amnesty International activist, and why Dr Tun Aung needs your help.
I’ve had a strong interest in civil and political rights since I was a teenager in Ireland. My father was a lifelong member of Amnesty International, so I was always aware of the organization. At university, I focused on the underlying causes of communal tensions between Indian and Burman communities in Rangoon in the 1930s for my postgraduate research. I’ve also been there. It was a combination of these factors that led me to work on Myanmar for Amnesty International.
The political situation in Myanmar has become quite fluid in recent years. According to the government, over 28,000 prisoners have been released in amnesties since it came to power in March 2011. These included hundreds of prisoners of conscience, but hundreds of others have been arrested or continue to be detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Amnesty International activists can play a major role in keeping the pressure on Myanmar’s government to stop such abuses. In Write for Rights 2010, members in 33 countries took more than 45,000 actions calling for the release of a peaceful political activist, Su Su Nway. I’m certain that that’s one reason why she was included in the new government’s first major prisoner amnesty.
I’m hoping we can do this again this year for Dr Tun Aung (pictured on the stamp image above), whose case I first heard about a few weeks after his arrest in June 2012
He is, by all accounts, a family man – a father and grandfather – who actively promoted tolerance among the ethnic and religious groups in Rakhine state. The local authorities considered him an ally who could help smooth intercommunity relations if tensions arose.
On a Friday afternoon in June, the authorities asked Dr Tun Aung to calm a crowd of men outside a mosque in Maungdaw, western Myanmar. The men were angry about the massacre of 10 Muslims one week earlier by a mob of Buddhists who were seeking revenge for the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman.
Dr Tun Aung did his best to restore calm, but the crowd wouldn’t listen. He was arrested several days later and is serving a 17-year prison sentence after being convicted of multiple criminal offences, including inciting a riot. Aged 66, he has a tumour on his pituitary gland and needs medical care.
It’s really important for us to make Dr Tun Aung’s case visible to a wide audience – which is why he is a Write for Rights 2013 appeal case. That way, he will remain in the minds of Myanmar officials when they are deciding on their next prisoner amnesty – as happened with Su Su Nway.
Dr Tun Aung should be released immediately so that he can return to being a family man, a community leader and a doctor. I firmly believe that Amnesty International members around the world will play a vital role in securing his freedom.