In a country where freedom of expression is regularly threatened, the younger generation of human rights activists in Burma have stepped up campaigns on sensitive issues in recent months.
Every Friday, for a year, Khin Sandar has to go to a court in the city of Yangon. Justice accuses the 30-year-old woman of having participated in a rally on May 12, 2018. That day, more than one hundred activists gather to call for peace in Burma. For several months, conflicts between the army and the Kachin rebellion have intensified in the north of the country, forcing civilians to flee by the thousands. " End the war immediately " have time to chant the protesters before the situation escalates. Twenty participants are arrested by the police: Khin Sandar is among them and risk today up to one month in prison. "I 'm not afraid to go to jail because now I have a lot of friends there, " says the young woman, meeting at a café in central Yangon. She adds, with a smile, in a calm tone: " We say jokingly : when we are outside, we do not have time to read, we are busy with meetings, our militant movements. At least, in prison, we will have time ! "
His friends belong to a satirical theater troupe. They were arrested last April for playing in Burmese New Year shows - a tradition in the country - during which they criticized the army. The military filed a complaint, and seven members of the troupe are now on remand in Insein Prison, in northern Rangoon, where many political prisoners spent several years under the military junta. They risk up to two years in prison. Despite the arrival of leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016, freedom of expression is in decline, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report. Kachin State to the north, Kayah State to the east, Rangoon. In recent months, dozens of young activists have been arrested in different parts of the country.
Two generations, two fights
Despite the threats, the younger generation is now the most active in public defending human rights in Burma, where the army still controls three key ministries (Defense, Interior and Borders). " The older generation of opponents does not want to criticize Aung San Suu Kyi, so they remain silent. They think that if they raise their voice against the civilian government, it will cheer the camp of the army, "says Lin Htet Naing, 31, also sued for demonstrating for peace, and already imprisoned at two times when he was a student leader. A statement shared by Khin Sandar: " For the older generation, they did their duty, the National League for Democracy was elected. But we, whether the NLD or others, if the rights of the people are reduced, we talk about it ! "
A country open to the world
In Rangoon, the mobilization for the defense of human rights remains weak, unlike that of ethnic regions. " With the arrival of the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the participation of the people has decreased, " said Lin Htet Naing, " because in Burma, most people do not know what democracy is. They said, the National League for Democracy won, that means we have democracy now . The younger generation of activists is therefore sometimes the only discordant voice, as in the imprisonment of two Burmese journalists of the Reuters Agency, arrested for their investigation into a massacre committed against the Muslim minority Rohingya by the army. The few demonstrations calling for their release in Yangon were initiated by young militants, and attracted few people to a country where anti-Rohingya sentiment is strong, the latter being considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. " When people talk about Rohingyas, or denounce crimes committed by the military in Rakhine State, they are almost always young people, " Thinzar Shunlei Yi, an activist since her 20 years old, and now 27 years old. Last week, this Buddhist, for whom religion inspired her activities, wrote on Twitter: " Before hiring someone, organizations need to ask them : What do you think of the rohingya crisis ? "
After seeing a shout-out from the @YangonInformer about the racist staff of @Phandeeyar they hired, I find this "a necessary" for all human rights. Just ask "what do you think of Rohingya Crisis?" b4 u hire anyoneThinzar Shunlei Yi (@thinzashunleiyi) June 19, 2019
The one who presents on television a show called Under 30 recognizes that the society in which the young Burmese of today grew up is very different from that of their elders, in a country that was closed on itself during the Decades of military junta: " There was no internet, no mobile communication, they were in prison, hiding in the jungle . Today, we have innovative ideas, creative, we have access to information, "adds this dynamic young woman, who says that his activities were initially poorly accepted by his family.
More solidarity between young people of different ethnicities
These new means of information, as well as the end of the prohibitions of assembly, contributed to create more solidarity between the young people of the country, whether they come from the ethnic minorities or the majority ethnic group of Bamar. In Rangoon in 2018 and 2019, several events have been organized to support young people in Kayah State for example, or Kachin State. " That's why our generation is important for the future, we know each other better ," said Lin Htet Naing, head of the Wings Institute, which facilitates exchanges between young people in the country.
These human rights activists are calling for greater participation of youth in the peace process, which is now deadlocked. In a country where more than half of the population is under the age of 30, young people stay away from decision-making, denounces Thinzar Shunlei Yi. " Moreover, to be a candidate for the upper house of Parliament, you must be over 30 ! "Exclaims the one who multiplies the return trips to the capital Naypyidaw to meet parliamentarians. While general elections are scheduled for the autumn of 2020, Lin Htet Naing has his eyes fixed on the 2035 poll: "our generation wants power, it's our dream," says the young man, who explains that this will be too early next year. " We do not want to see any more conservative politicians, we want new people, new ideas ! And I believe that in the future, it will be possible . "