Protests in Myanmar have refused to abate despite all the coercive efforts made by the military regime. Protesters gathered again all over Myanmar, a day after security forces shot dead two people at a demonstration in the country’s second biggest city. A funeral was also held for a young woman killed earlier by police. Mya Thwet Thwet Khine was the first confirmed death among the many thousands who have taken to the streets to protest the coup that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. About 1,000 people in cars and bikes gathered at the hospital where her body was held amid tight security, with even the victim’s grandparents who had traveled from Yangon, five hours away, denied entry. When her body was released, a long motorised procession began a drive to the cemetery.
Another shooting death took place Saturday night in Yangon in unclear circumstances. According to several accounts on social media, including a live broadcast that showed the body, the victim was a man who was acting as a volunteer guard for a neighbourhood watch group. Such groups were established because of fears that authorities were using criminals released from prison to spread panic and fear by setting fires and committing violent acts. A live broadcast on Facebook showed the wife of actor Lu Min describing to neighbours how her husband was arrested and taken away from their home shortly after midnight. He was one of six high-profile people in the entertainment industry charged last week with inciting civil servants to stop work and join the protest movement, which he and the others have publicly championed.
Protestors appear defiantly on the streets during the day but take intense care of their safety at the nightfall as they avoid being picked up by security forces. Each day before the internet goes down anti-coup activists pile on to social media and encrypted messaging apps to frantically organise the next day’s protest. They defiantly bang pots and pans, beat drums, wave creative signs and march en-masse through the streets. Government and factory workers have gone on strike to join a growing civil disobedience movement against the takeover. Communication is difficult because of internet shutdowns ongoing for the past six nights as a digital curfew now coexists with the real curfew imposed in major towns and cities from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.
The military has justified seizing power by alleging that widespread voter fraud took place during the November 2020 election, a claim refuted by the election commission. Many citizens have complained about being terrified of being dragged from their beds in nighttime or early morning raids, which have become frequent occurrences since the military takeover, and detained or charged on the basis of vaguely worded laws commonly used in the country to stifle dissent. Some protesters, who by day are fearlessly marching through the streets, go into hiding at night, moving from house to house to avoid arrest. The protests rate their show of dissent as both a mental fight as well as intense physical discomfort.
From the bigger cities like Yangon and Mandalay, to remote villages, people across the country are protesting against the new military regime, risking arrest for their actions. And while the demonstrations are dominated by young people who have tasted democracy and do not want to give it up and they are supported by many in the older generation who remember what it was like under the previous military rule. Many feel they are fighting for their very future — especially those who remember the more than half a century of brutal, isolationist military rule. Following the violence, thousands of pro-democracy activists fled to the jungles around Myanmar. They have joined a band of students who had formed an armed political opposition group, but life in the jungle was tough.
The coup was a major setback to Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of army rule that began with a 1962 coup. Suu Kyi came to power after her party won a 2015 election but the generals retained substantial power under the constitution, which was adopted under a military regime. Protestors maintain that standing up to the military rulers is important, as Myanmar could not regress back to the era of martial rule. They add that laws governing the country need be specific and just and have called on the international community to protect Myanmar civilians.
They insist that one key difference between today’s coup and 1988 is the fact younger people have now tasted democracy and, in general, are better educated than the previous generation. Generation Z’s mark has certainly been firmly stamped on the recent protests, with creative protest art and graffitied messages mocking the general now in charge of the country, Min Aung Hlaing. Protesters hold up the three-fingered salute from the Hunger Games movie franchise, a popular symbol of anti-coup protest adopted from recent political unrest in neighbouring Thailand.
The new deaths drew quick and strong reaction from the international community. Britain froze assets of and imposed travel bans on three top Myanmar generals, adding to already existing targeted sanctions. Singapore, which together with Myanmar is part of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, issued a statement condemning the use of lethal force as inexcusable. Facebook announced it took down the page run by the Myanmar military information unit for repeated violations of community standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm. It had already taken down other accounts linked to the military.
The Biden administration has been working to set up a foreign ministers’ meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in a bid to signal its diplomatic focus on the region and address the situation in Myanmar. Washington hopes to drum up support for its sanctions, which have so far hit 10 people and three companies for their involvement in the coup or ties to Myanmar’s military. Though ASEAN countries steer clear of such measures, owing to the bloc’s principle of noninterference in members’ internal affairs, the group does place importance on democracy and human rights. Several ASEAN members are pushing for group-wide talks to address the Myanmar problem.
Myanmar’s military leaders came under renewed pressure as the world’s wealthiest nations condemned the junta for responding to anti-coup demonstrators with violence, a rebuke coming on the heels of tightened sanctions from Washington and Brussels. Myanmar authorities have gradually ratcheted up their use of force against a massive and largely peaceful civil disobedience campaign demanding the return of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi. G-7 has stated that use of live ammunition against unarmed people is unacceptable. G-7 comprises rich democratic counties, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the US together with the EU. G-7 countries added that anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account.
The sharp condemnation comes after the overnight blacklisting of another two members of the regime by the United States — air force chief Maung Maung Kyaw and fellow junta member Moe Myint Tun — after announcing targeted sanctions against other top generals earlier this month. The US pointed out that they will not hesitate to take further action against those who perpetrate violence and suppress the will of the people. Hours before, the European Union had also approved sanctions targeting Myanmar’s military and their economic interests. The crackdown has failed to quell weeks of massive street demonstrations, joined by large numbers of striking civil servants, bank staff and healthcare workers. The civil servants’ boycott has choked many government operations, as well as businesses and banks and at the weekend the junta gave its most ominous warning yet that its patience was wearing thin.
There are many protestors who protest virtually every day since 6 February and many of them have quit their job as their employers did not want them to protest. The protestors now consider that their cause is now the cause of the people. They are angry about the fact that the military has touched their democracy and are harming the interest of the people. They noted that regular electricity cuts in Myanmar are carried out to punish them and they have also resorted to cutting internet connections depriving people of their rights. They are now using Telegram and Signal messenger, the encrypted messaging apps. Many protestors are convinced that they are doing it to secure the future of their generation. They are fervent supporters of democracy and freedom and do not want to lose their democratic status. They usually cite the travails experienced by their senior generations that were browbeaten by the high-handed military. TW