A Myanmar professor and human rights activist has resigned his post with one of Asia’s top universities, complaining of censorship.
Dr Maung Zarni, co-founder of the Free Burma Coalition, quit the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), saying it is “impossible to maintain his professionalism” and blaming “extreme and unprofessional academic censorship”.
Dr Maung Zarni, who is described on his website as a “staunch advocate of unconditional human rights, as well as ethnic and gender equality,” is also a visiting fellow with the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics, and the author of Life Under the Boot: 50 years of Military Dictatorship in Burma (Yale University Press).
On January 7, he uploaded his resignation letter on his website expressing his “deep regret” at the situation. He says that last June he participated in a human rights and rule of law panel which was joined by Aung San Suu Kyi during her European trip.
He alleges UBD punished him by withdrawing financial and institutional support 24 hours before his flight to London and forced him to take personal leave and to pay for the US$3000 flight himself. He says UBD also warned him not to use the university’s name during LSE’s roundtable discussion and panels, and to be “purely academic” – “[s]omething which, given the political role of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, is entirely impossible,” he said.
Upon his return to UBD, he was warned that “everyone is watching you”, and told to restrict his work to non-Myanmar issues or purely academic papers.
His resignation attracted some attention around the region, with Steve Lai, a presenter at Channel NewsAsia, tweeting: “This makes me sad.” Similarly, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim tweeted: “Let the world know about the resignation of Dr Maung Zarni.”
Dr Maung Zarni said that he had never made any secret of his political and human rights activities.
“I simply could not countenance allowing my employer to intimidate me into professional silence on unfolding human rights atrocities and war crimes against Myanmar’s Muslims and ethnic minorities in Burma on account of a monthly pay check,” he said.
“In fact I am the only Burmese academic who is researching, publishing and speaking out against what the Organisation of the Islamic Conference/Cooperation (OIC) officially refers to as ‘genocide against the Muslim Rohingya’ in western Burma committed by the collaborating political and social forces, namely the Rakhine ‘Buddhists’ and the government of Burma itself,” Dr Maung Zarni added.
UBD had also shown displeasure at his writing on Myanmar’s transition for the National University of Singapore and being invited by Channel NewsAsia to debate democratisation in Myanmar.
“I feel that with Brunei taking over the chair of ASEAN, my ability to function in the immediate future with professional integrity will be compromised beyond the levels which I am prepared to accept,” he said.
In an interview with Mawkun magazine, Dr Zarni criticised Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for not taking a stand over Kachin, where, he said, the Kachin Independence Organisation is fighting not for an independent state but “equal rights”.
He has accused the Tatmadaw of engaging in conflict in Kachin State so that Chinese projects could proceed, and said Myanmar people should be aware of China’s influence in their country.
The university did not respond to email requests for comment last week.