Myanmar: A Fight For Democracy Against the February 1 Coup

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 3, March 2021

This article is by an anonymous university student in Myanmar (Burma) who is currently supporting the pro-democracy social movements there against the February 1 coup. Anonymity has been granted to the author due to the threat against his person that might result from a byline.

Pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar (Burma) following the February 1, 2021 coup.

On March 15th, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) announced that they moved Myanmar (Burma) to the “Current Crisis” category, as populations here face crimes against humanity perpetrated by military coup leaders, known as the Junta. That followed the  the March 2 announcement by civil society groups of the Myanmar Military as a terrorist group. Their legitimacy and tactics are, in fact, those of terrorists rather than a government, as they have attacked democratically-elected government officials, and shot randomly into people’s homes in an attempt to quell a rising social movement in defense of President U Win Myint, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, other government officials, and civil society leaders.

So, what’s happening in Myanmar?

The Myanmar Military seized power through a coup on Feb 1, forcefully detaining President U Win Myint, the state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the chief ministers, the political party leaders, as well as student leaders of Myanmar. As telecommunications are being cut off, civilians demonstrate their dissent by honking car horns, banging pots and pans at 8pm every day and participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). Peaceful protests started as the civilians have been robbed of their freedom and rights. As the military’s oppression doesn’t show any signs of weakening the protests, the military and police increased their abuse by shooting at protestors(civilians) with live rounds and rubber bullets, arresting and torturing civilians, and raiding houses at night to terrorize the neighborhoods. More than 400 students have been detained without reasonable grounds while some are being beaten brutally held in the prison.

Civilians couldn’t believe the coup at first as it was so sudden. Starting from the night of Feb 1, almost every house in Myanmar started banging pots and pans and encouraging each other to participate in the CDM. On Feb 3, the terrorist group banned Facebook in Myanmar. Many civilians started to use Twitter to make the voice of Myanmar louder by using hashtags. During the first week of the coup, peaceful protests were carried out in many creative ways. The peaceful atmosphere was destroyed on Feb 9, when a teenage girl was shot in the head with a real bullet. Since that day, the crack downs became more violent. Some people had panic attacks and mental breakdowns from night arrests. Media outlet licenses were threatened if they referred to the illegitimate military ruling council as a “Military regime”, dragging away journalists who were wearing PRESS helmets.

February 28, also known as Milk Tea Alliance Day, was a bloody Sunday. After a month of coup, there were more than 18 fatalities in a single day. Back in mid-February when the Internet shutdown was imposed, service providers announced that the military’s directive of internet shutdown would be only until Feb 28. But the junta had made an empty promise. The internet shutdown from 1am to 9am continues and, since Mar 15, there has been complete loss of internet except wi-fi.

A video widely shared on social media proves that the terrorist group is intentionally attacking medical workers, with four volunteers brutally beaten up and dragged away from their ambulence by the terrorists. On the same day, more than a hundred people were arrested and many were killed. Family members rushed police stations and prisons to ask their loved ones’ whereabouts, but the police refuse to answer. UN Special Envoy Christine Burgener, who has been engaging with the army’s deputy chief Soe Win since the coup, warned about the sanctions and isolations, saying that they are used to sanctions and “they survived,” and that they would learn to walk with only a few friends. The message is loud and clear. No negotiation and No retreat from both sides.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) is the most influential pro-democracy political parties in Myanmar. The CDM and NLD support and reinforce each other. Adding to concern among Myanmar civilians are arbitrary arrests and brutality that sometimes end in death. The day after one of the NLD members was unjustly arrested, the junta declared his death. They never tell where they take civilian arrestees. Every day and every night that passes is another opportunity for them to beat, shoot, and kidnap. In addition to regular crackdowns, they started to raid teashops and arrest everyone including the shop owner, customers and even young waiters before they seized the snacks and properties. It is a daylight robbery of thugs. Although the coup leader repeatedly claims to support “democratic values”, the coup government has threatened the freedom of press by revoking publishing licenses of five independent news outlets. Another NLD member was arrested in his house and the next morning his family was contacted to collect the dead body. The armed force continued to demolish the makeshift barriers using bulldozers and setting fires in some places. However, in the state-run newspaper and TV channel, they claimed that the protesters vandalized the city. On the same day, on Mar 11, the UN security council issued a statement that they strongly condemned “the violence used against peaceful protestors.” Then, at least 12 people were killed by the junta during crackdowns. Another press conference of the junta was broadcast from MWD, the military-owned TV channel. One accusation is that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi accepted illegal payments from the ousted Yangon’s Chief Minster Phyo Min Thein. As daytime crackdowns on protesters were not enough, the late night raids became more frequent and violent. Along with the protests, funeral and memorial services for the fallen protestors as people laid flowers and candles at the spots where they were shot dead. In Mandalay, the terrorists refused to give back the body of a 19-year-old boy to his family members, denying they did not have it although several witnesses saw the body was taken by them.

The terrorist group made another mass killing on March 14. In Hlaing Thar Yar alone, there were more than 70 deaths. Here is a doctor’s testimony who volunteered in Hlaing Thar Yar. The number of fatalities cannot be concluded. Two factories were reportedly set on fire in Hlaing Thar Yar amid the tensions. Many said such incidents were staged by terrorists to turn the blame against protestors, while some argued that those were protestors’ doing. There are rumors that, according to the Chinese employees, China- funded factories were burnt by the junta not by the protestors. Later in the evening, the Chinese embassy issued a statement that requested the security of Chinese businesses in Myanmar. Apparently as a result of the statement, the junta imposed Martial Law in Hlaing Thar Yar and Shwe Pyi Thar. The same law was extended to four more townships in Yangon. The nation-wide disconnection of mobile networks, has drastically slowed information flow about the situation on the ground.

According to ground reports, at least 242 had been killed during the Martial Law period by March 17. Due to no internet access, the number of fatalities cannot be confirmed. Pictures, videos and such do not make it through to the media with more than 60 missing, and 27 dead bodies being taken away by the terrorists. Another terrible rumor is about the Xing Jia shoe factory in Hlaing Thar Yar, Yangon, which apparently called upon workers on March 16 to come collect their salary at the factory. Instead of paying the salary, the factory entrapped the workers, who then protested. The factory owners notified the military, which came and fired live rounds at the workers, killing eight and wounding others.

If the coup on February 1 did not happen, the civilians would have been living their peaceful lives, and the COVID-19 vaccination would have been on its way. The schools would have been reopened as scheduled. It is a fact that the illegitimate military government destroyed the peace and robbed Myanmar of democracy. As the civilians are trying their best while risking their lives, foreign assistance is needed. The civilians need the international community to honor its Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Foreign countries should ban opportunities for the terrorist group members, whose families are in fact mostly studying or working in foreign developed countries. “A threat to democracy anywhere, is a threat to democracy everywhere.”