This week Dateline looks at Myanmar, a year into its fledgling democracy, and why the political freedoms and peace Aung San Suu Kyi brought to the country are already under attack.
In November 2015, after years of military rule a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi was elected in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Hopes were high at the time, but many in the country now fear the peace and freedom they were promised is already slipping away.
Earlier this year, the shaky foundation of Myanmar’s new democracy was revealed in a brutal way, when a close adviser to Suu Kyi was murdered.
While waiting for a car outside Yangon airport, U Ko Ni was shot in the back of the head twice, at almost point blank range, while holding his 3-year-old grandson. He died instantly.
Myanmar’s government called the killing a terrorist act, carried out with the direct purpose of undermining the country’s stability. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) said it was aimed at the party’s policies.
Many in Myanmar believe Ko Ni was killed as a result of his opposition to the military’s continued control of the country’s defense, home affairs and border security – and that the hit was ordered by a former military officer.
In this week’s Dateline, human rights lawyer Robert San Aung tells reporter Krishnan Guru-Murphy he suspects Ko Ni’s murder was an act of vengeance from prominent figures in military intelligence.
“They want to get their power back – former military intelligence officers are unhappy that they were defeated,” he said. “They can’t forget that they were against Aung San Suu Kyi their whole lives.”
Ko Ni’s murder symbolises the simmering tensions in Myanmar between a pro-democracy movement led by Suu Kyi and the nation’s military. It also serves as another example of the persecution and danger faced by the country’s’ Muslim population – Ni, a Muslim, publicly condemned a law that stripped the minority Rohingya population of citizenship.
While many in the country have vocally condemned Ko Ni’s killing, one noticeably absent voice is that of Suu Kyi.
Despite the country’s new government and democracy, the military still holds substantial sway – people are jailed for criticising them.
NLD official Myo Yan Naung Thaung is currently imprisoned for comments he made about the commander-in-chief of the Army on Facebook. His wife told Dateline the days of being jailed in Myanmar for your political views are far from over.
“We understand that some of the parts are not changing,” she said. “Especially concerning the military and the judiciary system.”
Suu Kyi has also received criticism for her silence on the continued persecution of Myanmar’s native Muslim population, the Rohingya, who are based in Rakhine State on the country’s west coast.
Human rights lawyer Robert San Aung says Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t have full power of Myanmar, because “she doesn’t have control of the military yet.”
A UN human rights report from October last year concluded killings, disappearances, torture, rape and other atrocities committed against the Rohingya population “seem to have been widespread as well as systemic”.
It also suggested treatment of the Rohingya may constitute crimes against humanity.
During Dateline’s reporting, a Rohingya source who wanted to remain anonymous shared video of what he said is the body of a Rohongya man killed on his way home from the grocery store.
He then showed vision of another man’s beaten face, adding, “He was killed by extremists. The police were informed but no action was taken.”
The source believes Aung San Suu Kyi, as leader of the country, has been negligent in defending the Rohingya population.
“Nothing has been done so far,” he told Dateline. “She’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner, she could have looked at this from a human rights perspective but she hasn’t.”
U Ye Naing, a military spokesperson, says much of the reporting from the Rakhine crisis is “fake news” and claims restrictions on international media entering the region are because it is “dangerous for the journalists”.
Ye Naing, who admits to formerly working for the military as a propagandist, denies the current government uses propaganda to control its message around domestic conflicts.
A senior level adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, and former political prisoner, U Win Thein, admits many activists in Myanmar believe Aung San Suu Kyi has betrayed the cause, but says it’s not the case; “If she grabs a political objective for the future she never abandons or loses sight of that objective,” he says.
In other words she’s playing a long game to slowly wrest control of the country from the military.
But this doesn’t change the harsh reality – while new freedoms and liberties have been celebrated in Myanmar over the past year, for many in the country, not much has changed.
9.30pm Tuesday on SBS.