Myanmar Sees First Gay Election Candidate as LGBT Issues Gain Traction

Myanmar’s first openly gay candidate to run for a parliamentary seat in the conservative Buddhist country’s November elections wants to put an end to the abuse that members of the LGBT community say they suffer at the hands of the police. Myo Min Tun, 39, has stepped up as a People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) candidate for a seat in the regional parliament in Mandalay representing a constituency in the local capital of the same name. Mandalay is Myanmar’s second-largest city with a population of 1.2 million people. The florist and wedding planner says he wants to protect the rights of the LGBT community in the city, where gay men, transgender people, and same-sex couples have complained of wrongful arrests on trumped-up charges and physical assaults by police officers. In 2013, a group of gay men and transgender women accused police of arbitrarily arresting them, and then beating them, verbally abusing them, and forcing them into humiliating positions. Police officials denied the allegations. “This is not lawful,” Myo Min Tun said about the incidents. “As a LGBT member of parliament, I think I could help protect them,” he added. The PPP, a relatively new party started by a lawmaker formerly affiliated with but later dismissed by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, was registered with election authorities in October 2019. More than 200 PPP candidates are running for dozens of parliamentary seats in state and regional elections. Myo Min Tun is among the nearly 7,000 candidates from more than 90 parties running for legislative seats in the Nov. 8 elections. The parties have until Nov. 6 to present their platforms and programs and drum up support among voters. In past election campaigns, political parties have not taken a stance on the LGBT community or issues that affect it. But this election cycle is different. ‘We are more attentive to these issues’ The NLD and other political parties have included mentions of the LGBT community in their election campaign statements, though they have not paid much attention to the community in the past. “[Because] their lifestyles are different from those of the majority, some of them have been mocked or looked down upon,” said NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt. “Now, we are more attentive to these issues, so we’ve added them as one of the party’s goal to address in future.” A campaign speech by Than Htay, chairman of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), outlining the party’s policies and programs via state-owned radio and television on Sept. 15 did not address LGBT issues. Nevertheless, USDP spokesman Nandar Hla Myint told RFA that the party does not discriminate against Myanmar citizens on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), one of the country’s largest ethnic minority parties, has indicated that it will listen to the voices of people with different sexual preferences and prevent discrimination as part of its youth policy. However, SNLD Central Executive Committee member Sai Tun Aye did not mention the LGBT community in his televised speech on the party’s platform The Myanmar National Congress Party (MNCP) also said it will support LGBT issues. “Every person must have the freedom to express their gender orientation, feelings, desires and beliefs,” said MNCP chairman Kaung Myint Htut in a televised election campaign speech outlining the party’s platform. “Same-sex orientation is not a deficiency of moral character,” he said. “We need to respect the integrity and job opportunities of all gender orientations in society. We need to respect the integrity and job opportunities of all gender orientations in society.” “[The] Myanmar National Congress Party stands for all gender orientations [and] … will respect and protect the rights of all gender orientations,” Kaung Myint Htut said. Myo Min Tun, a candidate from the People's Pioneer Party who is running for a regional parliamentary seat in Myanmar's 2020 elections, visits supporters in Mandalay in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Myo Min Tun/Facebook Same-sex sexual activity criminalized The MNCP, which supports State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, wants to amend the 2008 constitution to strip Myanmar’s powerful military of its political power. The military controls three defense and security ministries, and its officers are appointed to a quarter of the seats in national, regional, and states legislatures. Its legislative block in the national parliament can wield a crucial veto over proposed constitutional amendments. It remains to be seen whether the political parties will live up to their stances on support for the LGBT community once their candidates are elected lawmakers, given deeply ingrained homophobic social attitudes and discrimination against LGBT people in the conservative, Buddhist-majority country of 54 million people, activists say. LGBT rights groups have long demanded changes to Section 377 of the Myanmar’s Penal Code and to Sections 30 and 35 of the Police Act, said Aung Myo Min, a well-known LGBT activist and executive director of the human rights group Equality Myanmar. Under the laws, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people can be harassed, arrested, and subject to violence and other abuse by authorities with impunity. Section 377 of Myanmar’s colonial-era Penal Code criminalizes same-sex sexual activity regardless of whether it is consensual or done in private, and carries a penalty of imprisonment from 10 years to life, though such sentences are rare. The section also contributes to a culture of impunity for police who infringe upon the human rights of LGBT people through physical brutality or extortion, activists say. The two sections of the 1945 Police Act, which pertain to the powers of special police and reserve officers and the apprehension and punishment of reputed thieves, are widely used by authorities to target LGBT people under concocted charges as a form of harassment and persecution. Ma Htet, a transgender makeup artist and Facebook celebrity who lives in Yangon, said members of the LGBT community have no means of recourse when their rights are infringed upon. “The laws should be aiding them,” she said. “The punishments should fit the crime. Only then will their lives be safe, and they will feel encouraged.” Visibility and acceptance grows Though Myanmar does not recognize the gender identity of transgender people or same-sex unions, the LGBT community gained visibility and the beginnings of acceptance amid political reforms under the previous quasi-civilian government that was in power from 2011 to 2015. Seven years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi, then Myanmar’s opposition leader, called for the decriminalization of homosexuality in a speech at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. She said that the criminalization of homosexuality was hindering efforts to treat HIV-infected gay men in the country. Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party pledged to improve Myanmar’s human rights record in the run-up to the 2015 elections. Her government published a National Youth Policy in 2018 mandating the end of discrimination against youth on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but it has done nothing to change anti-LGBT laws during its five years in power. Since then, there has been a growing climate of acceptance and tolerance of the LGBT community consistent with global trends. In the countdown to the 2020 vote, the NLD has called for the elimination of discrimination against LGBT people in its 34-page election manifesto released on Sept. 1. Aung Myo Min of Equality Myanmar suggested that the political parties are paying lip service to the LGBT community in the countdown to the elections to try to win more votes. “The political parties never made remarks about LGBT issues before, but now they are including them in their [election] manifestos,” he said. “I appeal to them to keep fighting for LGBT issues when they are actually elected to parliament,” Aung Myo Min said. Reported by Soe San Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Scores of Rohingya Refugees Victimized by Extrajudicial Killings in Bangladesh, Amnesty Alleges

A global human rights group has claimed that more than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh since 2017, but a senior government official told BenarNews that all Rohingya slain in “crossfire” incidents were drug traffickers. A statement issued Tuesday by Amnesty International gave the tally of slain Rohingya refugees, citing information from a local human rights group. Neither organization responded to BenarNews requests for more information about these claims. However, a police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar gave BenarNews an even higher figure of 104 Rohingya killed by security forces since May 4, 2018. The southeastern district is where about a million Rohingya Muslims are sheltering in refugee camps after more than 740,000 people fled violence against members of the stateless minority group in neighboring Myanmar three years ago. “More than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions between August 2017 and July 2020, according to Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar,” the London-based rights watchdog said in a statement on Tuesday, in which it called for a full and thorough investigation of the allegations. “Yet none of these cases have been investigated and no suspected perpetrators have been brought to justice.” Bangladesh officials continue to state that extra-judicial killings do not take place in their country while asserting that suspected criminals are shot dead by security forces during exchanges of gunfire, or “crossfire.” “None of the Rohingya killed in the crossfire with the border guards and law enforcement agencies were the victims of extrajudicial killings. They were armed narcotics smugglers coming from the Myanmar side of the border,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, when asked about Amnesty International’s allegations. “The duty of our border guards is to foil infiltration into Bangladesh from the other side of the border. Our border guards come under fire from the ‘yaba’ [narcotic] pill smugglers when they attempt to stop intrusions, and when the guards retaliate with fire some smugglers are killed,” he said. Similar incidents take place when law enforcement officials conduct anti-narcotics drives, Khan said. “Again, our law enforcers came under fire from the Rohingya drug peddlers and smugglers. During the exchange of fire, drug peddlers are killed. Our forces have the right to fire in self-defense,” the home minister said, adding, “We investigate all incidents of crossfire. Departmental action follows if law enforcers are found to have violated the law.” Higher Death Tally Meanwhile, police in Cox’s Bazar said 104 Rohingya were killed in alleged crossfire incidents between March 4, 2018 and July 31, 2020. By comparison, Amnesty International’s statement had a similar tally but over a longer period. Here, too, the Rohingya deaths were due to gunfights or conflicts within the refugee community, said Iqbal Hossain, an additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar district. “Those who were killed in gunfights had been involved robbery, criminal activities, and smuggling of ‘yaba’ pills. There were several cases of robbery, criminal activities, and drug smuggling against all of the slain Rohingya,” Hossain told BenarNews. “Many Rohingya also died in the internecine conflicts among different Rohingya criminal groups.” Hossain also referred to a 2019 incident, which led to the deaths of five Rohingya refugees. Violence broke out in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 22, 2019, when gunmen, suspected to be Rohingya, gunned down a youth wing official of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party. The killing of Omar Faruk triggered protests the next day, with participants blocking highways and vandalizing shops and houses inside a Rohingya camp, local media reported at the time. In follow-up operations, five refugees were killed, at least two of them by police who described them as suspects in Faruk’s killing. “The Rohingya robbers whisked away Jubu League leader Omar Faruk and killed him,” Hossain said. ‘They killed my son’ Some relatives of Rohingya refugees who were allegedly killed by Bangladeshi authorities claimed that their loved ones were not involved in criminal activities. Md. Shafi, a Rohingya refugee living at the Leda camp in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, said police killed his 28-year-old son, Rashid Ullah, in July. “The police took away my innocent son from a shop. Then they killed my son saying he’s an armed thief,” Shafi told BenarNews. “The police put me in jail too for 40 days.” Amnesty International said in its Tuesday statement that it had spoken to family members of five Rohingya refugees who were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions in Cox’s Bazar. “Every incident has a strikingly similar narrative where the victims were killed during a ‘gunfight’ with members of law enforcement agencies who claimed that they only opened fire in retaliation,” Amnesty said. “Three of the five Rohingya men were reportedly picked up from their homes by the police and were then found dead, said their family members.” Nur Khan, a former executive director of rights group Ain-O-Shalish Kendra, a local human rights group, said all the incidents of crossfire were “actually extrajudicial killings.” “Maybe some Rohingya were involved in drug peddling and smuggling. But this does not justify their extrajudicial killings. They can be tried. We have a judicial system in place.” Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Nine Die, Thousands Arrested Amid Crackdown on Protesting Mongolians: Group

Nine people have died and thousands have been detained as the authorities launched a region-wide crackdown on ethnic Mongolians protesting an end to Mongolian-medium education with class boycotts and street protests, a New York-based rights group reported on Monday."As the nationwide school boycott enters its third week ... the Chinese government is turning the entire region into a police state," the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement on its website."At least nine Mongolians have lost their lives, and thousands have been arrested in protest of China’s latest cultural genocide campaign," it said.An estimated 300,000 students have boycotted class across Inner Mongolia since the end of August, in protest at a new language policy for schools, which will see Chinese used as the language of instruction in schools that once offered Mongolian-medium education.The authorities claim the move is towards "bilingual education," but ethnic Mongolians say it is a form of cultural genocide aimed at cutting off their remaining connection to their culture and heritage.As parents broke into schools to free their children at the start of the semester, gathering in protest outside the gates, the authorities dispatched SWAT teams, plainclothes state security police, and volunteers to strong-arm families into sending their children back to school.Japan-based ethnic Mongolian Khubis said police in Inner Mongolia's Chifeng city and Heshigten Banner had arrested at least 12 members of herding communities, while armed police had come looking for school-age children in those areas."The police have been forcing their way into people's homes and snatching away their children [to go to school]," Khubis said.According to SMHRIC, between 4,000 and 5,000 ethnic Mongolians -- who include prominent dissidents, writers, herders, protesting parents, and online activists -- have been subjected to "arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial detention, forced disappearance, and house arrest" since the crackdown began.Parents who fail to enroll their children in school will see them expelled, after hundreds of ethnic Mongolians have been forced to resign from public office after they resisted the changes to the curriculum, which were kept under wraps until the start of the new semester at the end of August.“Massive student hunts are sweeping the region. Even in the remotest rural communities, police presence is so heavy," SMHRIC quoted an audio statement from a Mongolian parent as saying. "The whole [region] is a police state now."Another parent said in an audio message that they were reminded of the persecution of ethnic Mongolians during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)."This is nothing but a second round of ethnic cleansing," the statement said.Teachers, officials suspendedU.S.-based ethnic Mongolian Nomin said three teachers in East Ujimqin Banner and five officials in Abag Banner have been suspended in recent days for failing to enroll their children in school or for otherwise opposing the language policy."A directive has been sent to local governments requiring all parents to present their children at schools within a specified time," Nomin said. "Those who don't will have their kids expelled from school."Notices circulating on social media and sent to RFA showed such warnings issued by the education bureau in Abag Banner to a local high school, and by the education bureau in Bairin Right Banner to a local kindergarten.He cited the case of a factory boss in the region's capital, Hohhot, whose factory was damaged by officials in a bid to put pressure on him to send his children to school."One kid fled to the hills, and the parents only found him after a few days of searching for him," Nomin said, also citing the case of rights defender Dulma Yang Jin who organized local herding communities to stand up for their rights."She only just got married, but now both of them are behind bars ... they were detained once, then redetained a few days ago, and there has been no news of them since," he said.In the border town of Erenhot, school principal Ulaan was fired after she refused to implement the new language policy, and later committed suicide, he said."More than 100 police officers intercepted some people on their way to mourn her," Nomin said. "They wouldn't let them go any further."Crisis modePolice, ruling Chinese Communist Party committees, education bureaus, departments of discipline and inspection, courts, procuratorates, and schools are in crisis mode, with fresh directives and orders issued daily, SMHRIC said."The entire Mongolian population has been notified of arrests and detention of disobedient individuals and sackings of those who refuse to implement orders," the group said.It cited an official statement from the Ar-Horchin Banner People’s Court, state prosecutor, police department, and education and justice bureaus as saying that parents who do not comply will be sent for "legal education," and possibly fined or prosecuted.Another ethnic Mongolian parent told SMHRIC: "This is a matter of dignity. When an undignified life is not worth living, brave ones take their lives to end their earthly suffering."According to an Excel spreadsheet received by the SMHRIC, by Sept. 11, only 18 percent of students were showing up for class at Zaruud Banner's No. 2 Mongolian Middle School. A similar report from  Uzumchin Right Banner shows that as of Sept. 13, the percentage of ethnic Mongolian students attending was just 12.6 percent.Video clips and other communications showed students fleeing schools to join the boycott, while others sat in classrooms weeping and refusing to cooperate with attempts to teach them, SMHRIC said.The group said attempts by the Chinese government to play down the extent of the changes to the curriculum should be ignored, adding that the crackdown is a "cultural genocide.""Those documents issued by the authorities are intended to fool the Mongolians and mislead the international community," SMHRIC director Enghebatu Togochog said, adding that the authorities are targeting anything linked to Mongolian culture, including artifacts, traditional dwellings, and books in bookstores.The group said ethnic Mongolians in China face a total ban on the use of the Mongolian language in schools."Reports confirm that the Mongolian language is completely banned in schools," it said in a statement. "Students are banned from speaking Mongolian during any school activities."It cited an audio message from a parent in Otog Banner, who said students taken away to school by the authorities were now "banned from speaking in Mongolian.""No question, this is a cultural genocide,” Enghebatu said in a written statement. “China is not hesitating to carry out the genocide, one after another, in front of the eyes of the world."Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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