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Fearing the junta, hundreds of Myanmar parents disown dissident children

FILE PHOTO: A poster with pictures of people killed by Myanmar's junta troops is seen at the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) office in Mae Sot, Thailand, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Every day for the past three months, an average of six or seven Myanmar families have published announcements in the country’s state-owned newspapers, severing relations with sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandkids who have publicly criticised the ruling military junta.

What’s going on: The warnings began to appear in large numbers in November, after the army, which had taken control from Myanmar’s democratically elected government a year before, stated that it would seize the properties of its opponents and jail anyone who provided sanctuary to protestors. There were a slew of home raids that followed.

  • Lin Lin Bo Bo, a former car salesman who joined an armed resistance group under military control, was among those who had his parents disown him.
  • ‘We declare we have disowned Lin Lin Bo Bo because he never listened to his parents’ will,’ read the notice posted by his parents, San Win and Tin Tin Soe, in state-owned newspaper The Mirror in November.
  • The 26-year-old, speaking from a Thai border town where he has been since escaping Myanmar, said his mother told him she was disowning him after soldiers searched his family home for him. He stated he cried when he read the notification in the newspaper a few days later.
  • His parents declined to comment.
  • According to Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, senior advocacy officer at rights organisation Burma Campaign UK, which uses the old name for the former British colony, Myanmar’s military utilised this strategy during disturbances in 2007 and the late 1980s, but it has been used significantly more frequently since the Feb 1, 2021 coup.
  • One option to retaliate is to publicly renounce family members, which has a long history in Myanmar’s society, according to Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, who claims she has seen more such notices in the press recently than in the past.
  • Family members are scared to be implicated in crimes. They don’t want to be arrested, and they don’t want to be in trouble.
FILE PHOTO: A model of Insein prison, where thousands of political prisoners have been detained, is seen at the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) office in Mae Sot, Thailand, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

What happened: In a November press conference, military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said that those who made such declarations in the media could still face charges if proved to be aiding the junta’s opponents.

  • Hundreds of thousands, many of them young, went to the streets a year ago to oppose the coup. Following the army’s deadly assault on protests, some demonstrators fled to other countries or joined armed organisations in distant sections of the nation. These organisations, known as the People’s Defence Forces, are broadly associated with the overthrown civilian administration.
  • According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group, security forces have killed around 1,500 people in the last year, many of them demonstrators, and imprisoned nearly 12,000 individuals. According to the military, the estimates are inflated.
FILE PHOTO: Lin Lin Bo Bo, whose parents cut ties with him, talks during an interview with Reuters, at Thai-Myanmar border, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
FILE PHOTO: Lin Lin Bo Bo, whose parents cut ties with him, shows his tattoo to mark the Myanmar Spring revolution, at Thai-Myanmar border, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
FILE PHOTO: Journalist Min Het Mone, whose parents cut ties with him, works in his room, at Thai-Myanmar border, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

What they’re saying: Journalist So Pyay Aung captured riot police using batons and shields to disperse demonstrators and livestreamed the footage on the Democratic Voice of Burma news website. He said he hid in various locations in Myanmar after officials came looking for him before fleeing to Thailand with his wife and young daughter. In November, his father disowned him.

  • “I declare I am disowning my son because he did unforgivable activities against his parents’ wills. I will not have any responsibilities related to him,” said a notice posted by his father, Tin Aung Ko, in the state-owned Myanma Alinn newspaper.
  • “When I saw the newspaper that mentioned cutting ties with me, I felt a little sad,” So Pyay Aung told Reuters. “But I understand that my parents had fears of pressure. They might have worries of their house being seized or getting arrested.”
  • Tin Aung Ko, his father, declined to comment.
  • Two parents who disowned their children in similar notices said that the notices were primarily intended to send a message to authorities that they should not be held responsible for their children’s actions. They asked not to be identified for fear of attracting the attention of the military.
  • “My daughter is doing what she believes, but I’m sure she will be worried if we got into trouble,” one mother said. “I know she can understand what I have done to her.” 
  • Lin Lin Bo Bo expressed his desire to return home and support his family one day. He said, “I want this revolution to be gone as soon as possible.”
  • According to Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, a human rights activist, some families ripped apart in this way may be able to reunite.
  • “Unless they do it properly with lawyers and a will, then these things don’t really count legally,” she said of the disowning notices. “After a couple of years, they can go back to being family.”
  • As a result, journalist Pyay Aung believes that his estrangement from his parents would be permanent.
  • “I don’t even have a home to go back to after the revolution,” he told said. “I am so worried all the time because my parents are left under the military regime.”
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