When I was living in Rangoon my boyfriend Morning (now my husband) brought me along to a birthday party for his friend's daughter. I was excited to meet more of Morning's friends, and I thought this would probably become another interesting cultural experience. I would get to see how Burmese celebrate their children's birthdays.
Soon after we arrived, the adults gathered in the back of the family room, chatting and drinking punch as they sat on chairs and sofas lined up against the wall. The young children sat on the floor in the middle of the room, playing games. The parents brought out a birthday cake, and everyone sang, "Happy Birthday," in English. I was shocked-- the celebration could have happened in New York.
It's four years later, and I am sad to learn once again that life in Burma does work differently. A few weeks ago Morning's friend, the birthday girl's father, Thet Zin, was arrested by the Burmese junta and thrown in prison, where he remains today. His crime: having video CDs with footage of last September's demonstrations and a copy of the report on the demonstrations by UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to Burma Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
Thet Zin is the editor-in-chief of Myanmar Nation, one of the few publications in Rangoon without ties to the junta. His office was raided February 15, and the publication has since been shut down. Thet Zin and office manager Sein Win Maung remain in prison. The Irrawaddy, a publication based in Thailand and run by Burmese exiles, reported yesterday that the Myanmar Nation might be allowed to resume operations if the publisher agrees to become a mouthpiece for the junta.
Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said after the arrest: "Burma's military regime has once again shown its intolerance toward different political viewpoints by arresting journalists who were doing nothing more than reporting news and opinions. How can the Burmese authorities create even the semblance of a credible constitutional referendum in May when they won't allow journalists to report the news?"
Thet Zin was also arrested in 1988 for his role in pro-democracy demonstrations, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Like this past fall, the junta responded to the 1988 demonstrations by opening fire on the peaceful protesters, killing as many as 3,000 students and activists. This arrest makes him and Sein Win journalist numbers 10 and 11 currently detained by the Burmese junta, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The cute birthday girl must be about 9 years old now. If Thet Zin is convicted of a charge of illegal publishing and printing, he faces 10 years in prison. She could be 19 before her father makes it to another family celebration.