While enjoying political freedom, Taiwanese should not take it for granted and should be aware that they may lose it if they do not take the necessary measures to protect it, exiled Burmese democracy activist Khin Ohmar said.
In an interview with the Taipei Times on March 7, Ohmar reminded Taiwanese, who she considers to be Myanmar’s partners for democracy, of the importance of remaining vigilant.
Ohmar took part in student demonstrations against the Myanmar military junta in March 1988. She was also one of the key members who planned another wave of massive nationwide student protests in August the same year that ended in a bloody crackdown by the government.
By the end of 1988, an estimated 10,000 people — including protesters and soldiers — had been killed in conflicts following the uprising.
The demonstrations, which began on Aug. 8, 1988, later came to be known as the “8888 Popular Uprising.”
Many of the people who planned and took part in the demonstrations fled the country, but Ohmar and some others stayed in the country, hoping to find other opportunities to launch another uprising to overthrow the military government. They failed, however, and finally crossed the border into Thailand at the end of the year.
“We took a month to organize [another wave of demonstrations], but we failed,” she said. “We were chased down by intelligence agencies, we couldn’t go home and we couldn’t find any people who would accept us.”
From Thailand, Ohmar continues to promote democracy in Myanmar and is now a member of the Burma Partnership, an organization which aims to coordinate international efforts for democracy in her home country.
In 1988, Ohmar was a 19-year-old chemistry student at the Rangoon Arts and Science University — later renamed Yangon University — who had never been involved or had much interest in politics before, other than occasionally complaining about a few unfair regulations at school.
March 16, 1988, was the day Ohmar’s life changed completely.
She took part in a demonstration organized by students from a number of nearby universities after several students at the Yangon Technological University were arrested and detained without questioning for clashing with young people from the neighborhood — people who happened to be the children of government officials.
She joined the action because she believed the detention of students without due process was an injustice.
At the demonstration, more terrible scenes awaited her.
“We were blocked at one end [of a street] by the army, and on the other side, riot police cars were coming,” she said. “When students negotiated with the soldiers, the riot police had already started beating people.”
She fled with others, only to see more students being beaten and dragged into cars by police.
Horrified and angered because she could not understand why the authorities were acting so violently toward unarmed students who were marching peacefully, Ohmar was determined to fight for justice.
“I made up my mind that day to do everything for justice,” she said.
To avoid further demonstrations, the military government closed down universities in Yangon from March to June and ordered all students to go back to their hometowns. However, students used the opportunity to spread the news across the country, Ohmar said.
In June, when schools reopened, students again took to the streets to demand the release of those arrested during the March demonstrations.