Protests are growing inside Burma against the military junta’s proposed constitution and its May 10th referendum on that draft constitution. During a recent demonstration in the city of Rangoon, thirty-some protesters wearing “NO” t-shirts were urging voters to reject the constitution in the upcoming referendum. Burmese authorities cracked down on the peaceful rally by arresting six youth activists.
The following day, eleven Muslim community leaders in Rakhine state were arrested, reportedly for peaceful political activities. Moreover, in recent weeks, democracy and human rights activists in Rangoon have been assaulted and beaten with sticks. “These blatant human rights abuses,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in a statement, “contribute to the climate of fear and repression in Burma as the regime prepares to conduct a referendum on its draft constitution.”
In a recent speech, Burma’s top military leader Senior General Than Shwe again promised to bring democracy to Burma, saying a civilian government would be in place after the 2010 elections. But there is much cause for skepticism. The democratic representatives of the Burmese people have made clear that they oppose the unjust way in which the government is trying to impose its draft constitution. The junta continues to arrest individuals campaigning against the constitution and refuses to welcome independent referendum monitors.
The United States renews its call for the Burmese government to release all detainees and political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. According to Amnesty International, seven-hundred people detained during the crackdown in August and September 2007 remain behind bars, while forty have been sentenced to prison terms.
The Burmese regime should also cease its crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and begin a genuine dialogue with democratic and ethnic minority representatives. "Every civilized nation," said President George W. Bush, "has a responsibility to stand up for the people suffering under dictatorship." That includes the Burmese people.