"One step forward, one step back is the opposite of a shift"

The vice chairman of the National League for Democracy, Tin Oo, was released on February 13, 2010 upon the completion of his house detention of six years. The 82-year-old activist is second in command to Aung San Suu Kyi, and co-founded the main opposition party in Burma, the NLD, in 1988. He was placed under house arrested immediately after the Depayin Massacre in 2003 when junta-backed thugs ambushed Aung San Suu Kyi and her envoy. Two days after his release, Tin Oo returned to the NLD headquarters in Yangon, where he was greeted by a hundred strong crowd who came out to celebrate his release. Despite his old age and health issues, Tin Oo has a lot going for him. Age does not deter his spirit to continue fighting for freedom and democracy for the country he loves dearly. He said, “Even if I lost the sight in both of my eyes, I would continue in politics until Burma gained democracy.”

Photo credit: AP

Benjamin Zawacki, a researcher for Amnesty International based in Thailand, stated in Time today that the release of Tin Oo does not signify a shift in the attitude of the military regime, “One step forward, one step back is the opposite of a shift.” Just three days prior to his release, the junta sentenced Burmese-born American citizen Kyaw Zaw Lwin to three years in prison, and today, four women were sentenced to hard labor for holding prayer services for Suu Kyi’s release. There are over 2,100 political prisoners in Burma. Silent but brutal crackdowns against political dissidents are taking place all over Burma on a daily basis, especially in light of the pending 2010 elections. Many speculate that Tin Oo’s release is simply one of the oldest tricks used by the Burmese junta to put up a facade of leniency and change.

Rather than Tin Oo’s release, the emphasis should be on the question of why he was imprisoned in the first place, and why many more remain behind bars for their political beliefs and associations. Furthermore, repression against ethnic minorities continues to worsen even ahead of the 2010 elections. A report by Amnesty International released today shows that the military junta has stepped up its repressive mechanisms against the ethnic minorities. Zawacki from AI stated that, “The government has responded to this [ethnic] activism in a heavy-handed manner, raising fears that repression will intensify before the elections.”

Tin Oo’s release cannot be called a progress. As Malcolm X said, “If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and [in this case, the Burmese military junta] hasn’t even begun to pull out the knife.”

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