Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Moustache Brothers and Freedom of Speech in Burma

I'm told of the Mustache Brothers, two Burmese political dissidents of Myanmar who have been arrested by the regime multiple times for speaking out.  One spent six years in a forced prison labor camp.  Although technically banned by the government from doing so, they bravely perform a show nightly, catering almost strictly to tourists, where I'm told they do comedic political commentary. I'm interested, and agree to go. The ticket costs $10, and there are 15 of us there meaning they are raking in a tremendous amount of money (for Burmese) on a nightly basis, though I suppose it doesn't make up for six years spent at a labor camp.
Advertised a dance show- for a reason
 The show opens with one of the brothers, a small, thin man, with his trademark long white moustache brimming down to the sides of his face, speaking to us about his country. He has the confidence and delivery of a comedian who's been on stage every night of his life. He's good. 
"I went to Thailand to go to the dentist," he explains, "and the dentist is surprised when I tell I'm from Burma and asks me whether or not we have dentists in my country. Oh yes, but in our country we are not allowed to open open our mouth."
Moustache brother and wife
He's funny, though hard to understand at times, and I find myself liking him. He then plays a couple video clips, Hollywood celebrities speak to us comedically and seriously at the same time about what is going on in Mynamar. Kneeling on the floor, next to the DVD player, he fast forwards the DVD to the parts he wants us to watch.
Though amusing and interesting, I am waiting to hear more from him. He's spoken only a few minutes so far, and he brings out his wife to show us an old, traditional Burmese dance. After she is done he explains, "I have a cousin standing outside, looking around in case somebody is casing our show, if we see him talking on a cell phone on or something, my cousin will give me the warning, and we run," he says as he does the running man dance.
He's amusing, but deadly serious.
One dance after another, and none of them are Barishnikov. I am bored, this wasn't what I came here for. After nearly an hour of dancing, and two minutes more of his defused political comedic stylings, the show ends with a T-shirt sale.
the various dancers who performed
"I'd say that I was dissapointed," says Shannon from New Zealand, "but to look at the bright side, I wouldn't have been able to experience this anywhere else."
For a few steps as I walk outside, I also feel let down. Why did he show us the videos? Why all the dancing? And the thought hits me, just how brave and cutting edge this show is.
He CAN'T say anything else. He is pushing the limits as it is right now. He let's the Hollywood celebrities say what he cannot, or would certainly end up back in prison. Even letting them speak for him, he runs serious risks.
And he wasn't joking about his cousin standing guard outside. Each night they put on this show he is dancing (haha) the very fine line of what this repressive dictatorship will allow! I salute this brave man, and in his honor, I will tell you what he cannot (and hasn't) about the government. (Yes, he said none of this, I was going to report it anyways for any of you beauracrats in the regime reading)
check out some clips of the show in this video

Republished from Wikopedia

Burma is a police state. Government informants and spies are omnipresent. Average Burmese people are afraid to speak to foreigners except in most superficial of manners for fear of being hauled in later for questioning or worse. There is no freedom of speech, assembly or association.
Several hundred thousand men, women, children and elderly people are forced to work against their will by the administration. Individuals refusing to work may be victims of torture, rape or murder.
The Burmese media is tightly controlled by the government. Newspapers, journals and other publications are run under the Ministry of Information and undergo heavy censorship before publication.

A 2002 report by The Shan Human Rights Foundation and The Shan Women's Action Network, License to Rape, details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) troops in Shan State, mostly between 1996 and 2001. The authors note that the figures are likely to be far lower than the reality. According to the report, "the Burmese military regime is allowing its troops systematically and on a widespread scale to commit rape with impunity in order to terrorize and subjugate the ethnic peoples of Shan State." Furthermore, the report states that "25% of the rapes resulted in death, in some incidences with bodies being deliberately displayed to local communities. 61% were gang-rapes; women were raped within military bases, and in some cases women were detained and raped repeatedly for periods of up to 4 months." The Burmese government denied the report's findings, stating that insurgents are responsible for violence in the region.

According to Human Rights Watch [4], recruiting and kidnapping of children to the military is commonplace. An estimated 70,000 of the country’s 350,000-400,000 soldiers are children. There are also multiple reports of widespread child labour.
Evidence has been gathered suggesting that the Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen for extermination or 'Burmisation'.[21] This, however, has received little attention from the international community since it has been more subtle and indirect than the mass killings in places like Rwanda.

--------- So there you have it. I'm no longer in Burma, which means I can visit the dentist. ------

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