Phone Maw Day Marked in Burma for First Time Since 1989

For the first time in decades, former student activists openly commemorated a key event in the history of Burma’s pro-democracy movement—the killing of a Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) student who became the first casualty of a crackdown on the 1988 popular uprising against military rule.

Some 200 activists and political leaders, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation Students group and National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, gathered in Rangoon’s Shwegondaing Township on Tuesday to mark the occasion.

Human Rights Day—also known as Phone Maw Day after the name of the RIT student who was gunned down by security forces on March 13, 1988—has not been publicly commemorated in Burma since 1989, when activists declared it a national day to campaign for human rights reforms.

Speaking at today’s event, Min Ko Naing called on his fellow activists and leaders to do more to raise public awareness of human rights issues, saying that it was “not enough just to hold a ceremony.”

“It is important to work toward the improvement of human rights in Burma,” he said.

Noting that “this is the first time in two decades that we have been allowed to assemble to celebrate this occasion,” Ko Ko Gyi also called for a concerted effort to raise human rights standards in the country.

Suu Kyi, meanwhile, emphasized the need for unity to achieve this goal, saying “we must work in unity for every success.”

At today’s event, the former students, who were the witnesses of that time, recounted their experiences and recited poems that reflect the history of the past 24 years.

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