Activists and refugees demonstrated as State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was presented with the Freedom of the City of London award on Monday, calling the recognition “disappointing” in light of ongoing abuses against ethnic and religious minorities, journalists and rights activists in Burma.
“I’m so disappointed. She needs to stand on her moral ground—people have been dying, people have been raped,” said Ko Aung, an 88-Generation student activist and former security assistant of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who, before moving to the UK nearly 20 years ago, spent seven years as a political prisoner in Burma.
Along with the Kachin National Organization (KNO), Burma Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), and the charity Restless Beings, Ko Aung helped organize Monday’s demonstration in central London. It was attended by around 40 people who opposed the award, citing reports of abuses in Burma which they say have continued since the elected National League for Democracy-led (NLD) government took office more than one year ago.
Chanting “Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you,” they stood on the chilly London street corner for nearly three hours, holding signs calling for a release of political prisoners, a halt to religious hate speech, and an end to military violence against different ethnic nationalities, including the Kachin, Ta’ang (Palaung), Rohingya and Shan.
The Freedom of the City honor, which dates back nearly 800 years, was awarded to Daw Aung Suu Kyi in a private ceremony in London’s Guildhall, to which a spokesperson for the city of London confirmed to The Irrawaddy that no media was invited. Fellow Nobel Peace laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela have also received the same award.
Ring Du Lachyung told The Irrawaddy at the protest that he objected to the State Counselor receiving a “freedom” award from the city of London, when, “in reality, they don’t recognize the freedom of the Kachin.”
The State Counselor has come under increasing international criticism for a stalled peace process with ethnic armed groups, continued military clashes and displacement of civilians in the country’s north, and increased arrests of journalists under the country’s defamation law. At an EU press conference on May 2, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also said that she would “disassociate” from a United Nations fact-finding mission mandated to investigate recent reports of rape, extrajudicial killings, arson and torture by security forces against the Rohingya community in Arakan State in late 2016 and early 2017.
In an April interview with the BBC, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi rejected assertions that crimes against the Muslim minority in northern Arakan State amounted to ethnic cleansing, and her government has repeatedly described the issues as an “internal affair.”
Two counter-protesters at the London demonstration echoed these sentiments and said they had come to “support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi” and to “condemn” the protest.
‘Screened From Criticism’
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in London on Friday night—after previously visiting Belgium, the Vatican and Italy—and, according to Burmese state media, was met by a delegation at Heathrow airport, including U Kyaw Zwa Min, Burma’s ambassador to the UK.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is reportedly staying at The Dorchester hotel for the duration of her time in the British capital. It is the same establishment in which her father, the late independence leader Gen Aung San, and his delegation stayed in January 1947 during the trip in which he negotiated an agreement with then Prime Minister Clement Attlee guaranteeing independence for Burma by within one year. Weeks later, he signed the Panglong Agreement in Shan State, promising ethnic nationalities equality and autonomy within a federal Union.
It is said that during his weeks at the establishment 70 years ago, Aung San invited members of the Burmese community in London to The Dorchester to share meals, music and memories of their homeland.