Human rights activists in northern Shan State have reported receiving threats over social media in recent days regarding their work.
The recent pattern of intimidating messages has coincided with the assassination of the highly respected and socially conscious abbot at Hkur Ning monastery in Lashio Township on Monday. Bandata Panya Zawta (Damasarya) was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen.
Around 10 days before the abbot was shot, his tablet was stolen from the monastery. It is unclear if this theft or the data obtained from the tablet has informed the recent threats being shared with activists over social media.
The night before the abbot was killed, Shan human rights activists said they received threats from the account of a Facebook user named Tawng Tan Chit Thu, whose page features a profile picture of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The messages encouraged the individuals to practice restraint in their actions, and declared, “don’t blame us if we do something later.”
Sai Harn, the leader of the Lashio-based Tai Youth Organization, describes his job as “working for social matters” and “opposing injustices.” He said he received a message on Monday evening at 8:30 p.m. saying, “if you love yourself, be on alert.”
He could not find the Facebook account when he looked for it later.
Nang Mwe Lern, a member of the Northern Shan State Students’ Union, said that on Monday evening, someone tried to hack into her account. Her friends have also received messages telling them that “life is cheap in northern Shan State.”
Peace and human rights activist Nang Sapel told SHAN that in rural areas of northern Shan State in particular, people feel they are not safe.
“I am not the only one person facing insecurity in this area. All ethnic people living in the mountains have faced many threats and are living there with fear,” she said.
Nang Sapel explained that she is worried that the assassination of the Shan monk could lead to interethnic tension, and that it could have been an attempt to foment disunity between different ethnic communities in northern Shan State, all of whom are struggling.
“I’m working for peace and justice as much as I can. I will always stand with all ethnic people… to have equal development, we have to coexist,” she said.
Ta’ang Legal Aid representative Mai Myo Aung sees the shooting of the abbot in Hkur Ning monastery as “a warning sign for human rights activists.”
“Monks are being shot dead. I am sure that there is no security,” he said. “When problems are solved by arms, it means there is no rule of law, and no security for anyone.”
The assassination of Bandata Panya Zawta comes just over a year after two gunmen shot Kalyana Wonsa, the abbot at Shwe Kyin monastery in Kyaukme, northern Shan State on October 5, 2018.
The perpetrators were never apprehended.