Bryan Tun has messaged his father only once since February, when a brutal coup swept the military to power in Myanmar, resulting in more than 700 civilian deaths.
“Hey Dad,” he wrote to his father, Pwint San, who accepted the post of minister of commerce in the Myanmar military’s illegitimate new government, “if you don’t quit, you’re going to lose me as your son forever.”
“You are not killing anyone, but you are employed by killers. You took a position given to you by killers.”
The reply came: “Son, I know how you are feeling right now. But there’s nothing I can do to change that. The only thing that I can do is to pray for things to get better.”
Tun says of his father, who works with the generals: “I don’t want to call him father anymore.”
February’s violent coup, which reinstalled the military junta that has ruled the country for most of its independent existence, has pushed it to the brink of civil war, threatening regional and global instability, with widespread lethal violence, and the potential outflow of thousands from the country.
The coup has been an acutely personal trauma too, dividing families irreparably and cleaving diaspora communities across the world.
But despite Tun’s public and repeated disavowals of his father, some members of Myanmar’s diaspora community in Australia argue he, and all the other children of coup figures in the country, should be deported.
Tun is one of half a dozen children of regime figures listed in a document compiled by activists and handed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat).
“I think, one, the law is the law and, two, people in Myanmar don’t have this kind of opportunity to beg for their life to be free,” Sai Myint Aung, a law student who helped compile the list with lawyer Melinda Tun, told the Guardian.
“It’s fair game.”
Bryan Tun, born Ye Min Tun, has lived in Australia for 12 years, furthering the medical training he began in Yangon. Having worked in Alice Springs and Lavington, he is now a senior health officer at a Brisbane hospital.
His father has never held a military position. But Pwint San, a trained doctor before he became a businessman in Myanmar’s fledgling private sector economy, had previously held positions in the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development party government, elected after 2010 – an election boycotted by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. I’m not trying to defend him, but the world knows how lethal this military terrorist government can be
His son always supported Myanmar’s democratically elected leader, and the daughter of the nation’s founding father, Aung San.
“We would quarrel, back and forth over the years, because I was really open with how disgusted I was that he was siding with the USDP: the really really rich kids, the cronyism, the nepotism. We’re not like that, we’re not a military family, we’re not rich. I would say, ‘Dad, why are you risking your reputation siding with these guys. You are not stealing anything, you’re not taking bribes, you’re not of them.’”
When the NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, swept to power with a resounding electoral victory in 2015, Pwint San was no longer in government.
“We got along much better then, because we did not have politics coming between us,” his son says.
But when the military forcibly seized power on 1 February this year, Tun’s father was drawn back into government. Pwint San was offered, and accepted, the post of minister for commerce and left the family home in Yangon for Myanmar’s isolated capital Naypyidaw.
Tun says he understands his father might have felt – even been – compelled to accept a position in the junta’s regime.
“I’m not trying to defend him, but the world knows how lethal this military terrorist government can be.”
Any move to quit now, or to publicly condemn the junta, could bring retaliation, or persecution of family members still in Myanmar, Tun says.
Attempts by the Guardian to contact Pwint San have received no response.
Globally, an online campaign called the “social punishment movement” aims to pressure members of the junta by outing, isolating and ostracising members of their families, wherever they are around the world.
Tun says he has been “socially bashed” online, targeted with hostile messages and had pictures of his house published online – a move he argues is “counter-productive to the movement” opposing the junta.
“I accept people socially punishing me because that’s what they think is right when the military is killing innocent people. If any method can bring success to our revolution, I’m ready to comply,” he says.
“But I’m on their side, I’ve spoken out against the junta and my father. But my efforts are being discounted just because I’m blood-related to my dad.”
Tun is part of another social movement opposed to the junta: the “family disobedience movement”, in which family members of junta officials publicly and privately pressure their relatives to quit the illegitimate regime.
Tun argues the international community, in particular the UN and the US, needs to intervene in Myanmar or many more will die.
The pro-democracy civil disobedience movement (CDM) inside Myanmar insists it will not cease protesting until the country’s democratically elected government is restored.
The military shows no appetite for stopping the killing of its own citizens.
Melinda Tun – no relation to Bryan Tun – last month told parliament’s joint committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade, which has been looking into the situation in Myanmar, that family members of regime figures should be expelled from Australia, citing a federal court judgment handed down the last time Australia imposed widespread sanctions against the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw.
Visa Extension For Myanmar Nationals
In 2007, the Australian government sanctioned 418 senior army officers and their associates, including family members.
The Australian-based daughter of a sanctioned Tatmadaw brigadier general – but not herself under sanction – appealed to the court against a decision by the minister for immigration to deport her, saying she was estranged from her family because of the brutality of the military regime.
The court found against her and upheld her deportation.
“We are the destination of choice for families and children of senior members of the military regime,” Melinda Tun told parliament.
“Many of them are living and studying here, funded by the proceeds of their parents’ military connections and involvement in military enterprises. Their presence in this country is fundamentally contrary to our foreign policy interests.”Myanmar’s lost generation: nation’s youth sacrificing futures for freedom
Others named in the list provided to Dfat as living or studying in Australia include relatives of Aung Naing Oo, the regime’s minister of investment and foreign economic relations and Thidar Oo, the regime’s attorney general.
Guardian Australia has been unable to reach Aung Naing Oo and Thidar Oo’srelatives for comment and there is no suggestion that they have benefited in any way from the proceeds of their relatives’ military connections in Myanmar.
The list also contains relatives of people who have previously been subject to Australian and US sanctions, including some accused of arms dealing or being in business with coup leaders.
In Brisbane, one woman named on the list because of her father’s alleged links to the junta cautions against assuming that those who are silent about the coup support it.
The accusation made against her father is serious. It was unearthed on social media shortly after the coup and circulated among democracy activists. It has left her and her family frustrated, she says, because they don’t know how to disprove what she says is a lie.
She says she has not spoken out nor protested against the coup like many of her friends because of fears her family could be targeted in Myanmar should she be seen in pictures posted on social media.
Her silence, and a decision to reduce her social media presence, combined with the uncovering of information suggesting her father was in business with the junta, has led to her being targeted for “social punishment”.
She has been accused of living a life of luxury in Brisbane, and using her father’s money to attend lavish events. None of this is true, she says.
Australian property and company record searches conducted by Guardian Australia do not uncover any significant holdings in the name of the woman or her immediate family members.
“We don’t support the coup at all. No one will accept this military coup killing innocent people, detaining people. Who would accept this at the moment? I strongly condemn that and I want it to end soon,” she told Guardian Australia.
“They might assume, but if I explained that it’s not true, who will they believe in this situation?Australian government tells Myanmar nationals they won’t be forced to return
“Everyone is frustrated, my country is terrible at the moment, so how can we explain about that [accusation against my father]? If I speak out about it, at this point, no one will listen.”
The woman has studied and worked in Australia for more than a decade, gradually working her way up to a position of some seniority.
She concedes that her family supported her through the early part of her career, but says that since she became employed she has paid her own way.
Eventually, she wishes to return to Myanmar. There are few experts in her chosen field, she says, and she feels she could do a lot of good in the country.
People who once considered themselves close to the woman say her absence from social events in Brisbane since the coup is unusual.
One former friend says that regardless of the woman’s explanation, she and those like her should be reported to Australian authorities to be investigated.
They are members of the Myanmar ruling class, the former friend says, which is dynastic in nature and was protected and plumped up because of its links to the military long before the coup.
She said the atrocities being committed in Myanmar mean foreign governments must once again crack down on the children of this ruling class who live safely within their borders.
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