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Buddhist Monks Renew Protest in Myanmar

Myanmar's military regime has released several pro-democracy activists that were arrested during a deadly crackdown last month on anti-government demonstrations.

Thousands were detained by the military, which said most have since been released, others fled rather than face arrest, and possibly worse.

Ktun Haung and his wife Sanda — not their real names – are at the Thai border town of Mae Sot. A month ago, they were affluent, up-and-coming professionals in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. The two were childhood sweethearts and they got married earlier this year, started a new business and were talking about starting a family, too. Then came the demonstrations, which Sanda joined, figuring there was safety in numbers.

"If the government arrested everybody who demonstrated, there would be no place to put them all," she said. "I thought like that."

She thought wrong. A few weeks after the military crushed the demonstrations; authorities came for Sanda at her mother's house but missed her by just a few minutes.

They then tried her sister's house - she wasn't there either, but her husband was. He didn't know what was going on.

"Immediately my husband realized the situation ... and he answered 'I don't know where she's gone,'" Sandra said.

They asked him for his wife's passport. He said he didn't have it. They said get it, and if you don't we'll use force. Not wanting to cause trouble in his sister's house, Ktun Haung complied and the police left.

"After that, I called my wife," he said. "She told me she was OK, but wouldn't tell me where she was.

She was afraid the police were listening.

Starting from that day, he didn't go back home and slept in different places.

Sanda reached out to a powerful and influential uncle. With good contacts high in the military government, she hoped he could fix things.

"The next day, he called me and said what did you do?" she said. Her uncle said "it's not a simple case. They believe that you are the channel between foreign political support and all the information the political information from inside."

Many people did pass information to the outside world, namely photographs and videos about the violent crackdown.

But Sanda said she was not one of them. All she did, she said, was join the demonstrations. She said she thought seriously about staying and facing the charges against her.

"I didn't want to leave Myanmar. My family is there and I don't want to leave them. I had a long discussion with my family and they all suggested I do not stay and face the case," she said.

The family was afraid they would torture her into confessing to something she had not done. So Sanda and her husband left Yangon two weeks ago. He was unhappy about leaving his new business, but never considered staying without her.

"We've been in love for a long time," he said. "There was no way I'd stay if she left and it wouldn't have been safe for me to stay anyway. ... (in) Myanmar, if they don't find the person they're looking for they'll go after the one that person is closest to. So it was safer for both of us to leave."

They couple said it took 10 days to make their way to the border and to slip across into Thailand. Now they are refugees with no passports, lying low, fearful of being arrested and deported.

They have little hope of returning to their once comfortable life, but neither of them regrets taking part in the demonstrations, even though that decision appears to have cost them their comfortable life.

"Sure, we were comfortable. We had a good business," Ktun Haung said. "We lived a lot better than most, but it could have been taken away at any time. The people in power make the rules and bend the rules as they please. Nobody is safe."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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