Orange County stands up against repression and for democracy in Burma

Thousands of miles away in Southeast Asia, a brutal military regime has been wreaking havoc on Burmese citizens for a year and a half as residents fight for democracy.

And the impact of that brutality is being felt right here in Orange County.

Ii Maung, a Burmese American living in Anaheim Hills, and her family suffered the wrath of Tatmadaw- Burma’s Armed Forces – first hand.

“A cousin of mine was part of this revolution. He was only 18 when he was arrested, he was interrogated, tortured and killed,” Maung said on Saturday. “Because he was part of this revolution, he was supposed to tell them the other people involved and he didn’t say names.”

“He took it to the grave.”

Ii Maung addresses the crowd at the Myanmar Democracy Solidarity Rally in Stanton on October 8, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Maung said his cousin was a scholar, a tutor who helped his mother and supported his family.

She also said her family’s house was confiscated and her brother – a famous author who writes about the revolution – also had his publishing house confiscated.

In February 2021, the military seized power from the government in a coup just months after the 2020 elections and detained leaders, activists and journalists. Even before the coup, the military had a grip on power and life in Burma.

People and students immediately took to the streets to protest and parliamentarians formed the government of national unity to oppose the coup.

Protesters at the Myanmar Democracy Solidarity Rally in Stanton on October 8, 2022. The three finger gesture is a symbol of resistance used by democracy advocates. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

But the Burmese army has a reputation for violently silencing opposing voices.

“Security forces reacted by committing offenses amounting to crimes against humanity against the civilian population, including torture, severe deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearances, rape and other sexual abuse and inhuman treatment,” according to the Human Rights Watch country report.

Police and military killed 1,200 protesters including around 75 children and detained 8,700 people between February 1, 2021 and November 1, 2021, according to the same report.

Burma has become the second biggest jailer of journalists in the world after the military overthrow of the government in 2021. According to Reporters Without Borders, at least seven journalists were tortured last year three were killed and 115 were arrested.

Despite the danger, the Maung and Burmese people of Southern California continue to speak out.

“We have suffered enough already. If we don’t, who will,” she said.

Protesters at the Myanmar Democracy Solidarity Rally in Stanton on October 8, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Maung spoke out against the military junta at a Democratic rally she helped organize Saturday in Stanton and said she has held about 70 rallies in Southern California since the coup.

“The army is now killing civilians, destroying property to terrorize the people into submission. But we will never submit,” she told a small crowd outside Stanton Town Hall.

Members of other communities came out to show their support, including representatives from the Formosan Public Affairs Association, Hong Kong La Forum and the Thai Democracy Association who spoke at the rally.

Ko Ko Naing addresses protesters during the Myanmar Democracy Solidairty Rally in Stanton on October 8, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

A Burmese Muslim ethnic minority – the Rohingya community – who have faced genocide, violence, rape and persecution at the hands of the Burmese military also spoke at the rally.

“I am here today not only to defend democracy, but also to end genocide,” said Ko Ko Naing, co-founder of the Rohingya Association of Los Angeles.

The rally came a week after global protests in solidarity with the Iranian people.

[Read: So Cal Rallies in Irvine To Protest Iranian Repression]
Protesters at the Myanmar Democracy Solidarity Rally in Stanton on October 8, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Last year, a similar rally was held at Stanton Town Hall to raise awareness of Burma’s vicious and brutal military crackdown on peaceful protesters and civilians fighting and even dying for democracy.

[Read: Community Rallies to Support the Burmese Fight For Democracy Against a Violent Military Regime]

Alfred Tun, a Burmese American who helped organize Saturday’s protest, said the situation in Burma had only gotten worse since last year’s rally.

“Burma began to degenerate into internal conflict and civil war,” he said in an interview. “We never want to live under dictatorship again. That’s why people fight as hard as they can. Many sacrifices have been made. Many lives have been lost. »

Tun said little action had been taken by the international community beyond statements of support. He said true support can take four forms.

“The first thing is punishments on oil and gas companies in Myanmar, the second thing is the recognition of the national unity government of Myanmarthe third thing is the retention of Kyaw Moe Tun who is Myanmar’s current permanent ambassador to the UN and the fourth thing is for more direct assistance and aid,” he said.

Alfred Tun, speaks at the Myanmar Democracy Solidarity Rally in Stanton on October 8, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Tun worries that without international support, the situation in Burma will continue to drag on and more people will die.

He’s not the only one asking for help.

Banny Hong, the owner of the Taste of Burma restaurant in Stanton, is another vocal voice in Orange County against the Tatmadaw.

[Read: Santana: Meet The Orange County Restaurant Owner Who is Trying To Stop The Burmese Killing Fields]

He said he would like to see the United States provide military assistance to the resistance.

“Not really boots in the field, but we ask for military equipment. They have no weapons,” he said. “These Burmese generals are killing people, they are destroying your business. If you are against them, they take your house. They can imprison you. They can kill you.

Hong and others wonder why the Ukrainian people received substantial support from the United States while the Burmese did not.

“If we got 1/100th of the aid going to Ukraine, we could win,” said James Shwe, one of the speakers at the rally, in an interview.

In his speech, Shwe called for an international arms embargo against the military junta.

“We have to cut off sources of funding for the army,” he said. “We are still waiting for the United States to help us restore democracy and human rights. We need concrete and effective actions.

OC elected officials respond

Perhaps the most vocal elected official on this issue, Stanton Mayor David Shawver helped organize two Burma rallies and also spoke at the rally.

He said in a phone interview on Sunday that his city is very diverse and home to many Burmese residents.

“They are really part of our community,” he said. “I think we have forgotten what is happening there, but also in other parts of the world, because it does not affect us directly and so I wanted to raise awareness.”

“That’s what you should do.”

Protesters wave the three fingers, a pro-democracy hand gesture used in Myanmar on October 8, 2022 in Stanton. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
[Read: Santana: What Kind of Elected Leaders Stand With Thug Regimes?]

Also present at Saturday’s rally were Congressman Lou Correa and OC Supervisor Doug Chaffee. Representatives of Congresswoman Michelle Steel and Congresswoman Young Kim also spoke at the rally.

Correa and Chaffee left before the rally was over. A planned question-and-answer session with elected officials about the actions they are taking to help the Burmese people ultimately never took place.

“What happens in this part of the world matters to you and it should matter to all of us in democracy who care about human rights and religious freedom,” Correa said at the rally on Saturday.

Protesters wave the three fingers, a pro-democracy hand gesture used in Myanmar on October 8, 2022 in Stanton. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Protesters sing in unison during the Myanmar Democracy Solidarity Rally in Stanton on October 8, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

For people like Maung, it’s also important as Americans to speak out against atrocities like the ones happening in Burma.

“These are our fundamental rights,” she said. “As Americans – we’ve had this democracy for over 200 years, we’ve taken it for granted and we shouldn’t. People are dying and risking their lives to save this and get these kind of rights – to be able to speak freely to meet their basic needs.

“I think we take it too much for granted here.”

Hosam Elattar is a member of Voice of OC Reporting. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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