(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Malaysia and ASEAN governments should lodge the strongest protest with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) of Myanmar at the arrest of 18 members of the multi-national peace-making team to promote democracy and human rights in Burma and to demand their immediate unconditional release.
The Myanmese military junta has confirmed that 18 foreign activists had been arrested for "attempting to incite unrest" in Rangoon.
The junta said that " Foreigners who were distributing the pamphlets in downtown Yangon were reported to the police by citizens and taken to the police stations for questioning and they are being detained while the investigation continues".
The 18 foreign activists were definitely not "attempting to incite unrest" in Rangoon unless aspirations for freedom, democracy and justice have become a capital crime and high sedition in Burma.
The activists were distributing Goodwill Messages in Burmese and English
It would appear that under the autocratic regime of the Burmese military junta, expressing goodwill to the peoples of Burma now constitutes "inciting unrest", which only highlights the fragility of the military rule because of its utter lack of legitimacy and popularity. In how many countries in the world would the distribution of such goodwill messages be regarded as "inciting unrest"?
The 18 activists arrested include three Malaysians, the others being three Thais, three Indonesians, two Filipinos, six Americans and one Australian - 10 men and eight women.
Several of the eighteen activists were arrested in the streets of Rangoon while the rest were arrested at Mingladon Airport. They include lawyers, academics, businesspeople and students - and are members of about 13 organisations from the Asia Pacific which support human rights and democracy.
The mutli-national peace-making team were in Burma to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the August 8, 1988 uprising of pro-democracy activists calling for democracy and the ending of rule by the military.
Soldiers opened fire on a demonstration on the steps of a Rangoon city hall on that day, and thousands of people were killed in the unrest that followed the uprising.
I am seeking an appointment with the Foreign Minister, Datuk Abdullah Badawi and the Burmese Ambassaor to Malaysia, U Saw Tun, on the arrest of three Malaysians among the 18 taken in by the Burmese military authorities yesterday.