The Coup: A View From Yangon
On Monday February 1st the Myanmar military seized the country in a coup.
In the early hours of the morning they arrested the de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other senior members of the democratically elected National League for Democracy.
It was the theft of a nation.
Demonstrations began slowly but gained in intensity until hundreds of thousands across the country were marching in defiance of the military regime. Students led the way: doctoral undergrads in white coats and engineering students in hard hats. Soon following them were people from all walks of life: fire-fighters, construction workers, nurses and monks. Body-builders came out and bared their torsos, the LGBTQ community waved rainbow flags and students held up memes in English to try and attract attention from the international community.
The demonstrations were festive in nature. Revolutionary songs were sung, motorbikes raced around the city and children gave flowers to the security forces, calling them the “People`s Police.”.
That first week the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) began. Doctors and nurses said they would refuse to work for the military regime. They were followed by civil servants from almost every department and ministry. Crucially, workers from the banking sector joined their ranks, effectively grinding the country to a halt.
The CDM has rattled the military and provoked their traditional brutality.
In an attempt to bring striking railway workers back to work, security forces have been evicting them from their lodgings and trashing or stealing their belongings. Already 5 independent media outlets have had their license revoked. Journalists have been detained and beaten up while their offices are ransacked.
At night, arrests are being made. Already two NLD party members have died in custody. It should not be seen as a coincidence that both were Muslims. Soldiers and police set off stun grenades on the street to terrorize the people and even shoot into apartment windows.
On the streets, the security forces have been shooting peaceful protesters in the head. Two children have already been killed. Extra-judicial executions are carried out in broad daylight. Hundreds have been detained. Young protesters from Myeik tell how they were forced to sing revolutionary songs as they were smacked with rifles and chains. ‘Military dogs bite’, the soldiers said. In this video, you can see three volunteer medical workers savagely beaten.
Currently over 100 have died.
“These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions,” said Joanne Mariner, director of crisis response at Amnesty International. “These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open.”
In the face of this, the young protesters are arming themselves with gas-masks and hard hats. For all their bravery it is a pitiful defense. Each morning they write their blood type on their arms and the contact number of their next of kin. One protester killed in early March filled his backpack with large books, in the hope that they might offer some protection. Ko Chit Min Thu, 25, who died on March 11th, was shot by a bullet that went through his homemade shield. Here he is behind his shield.
Parts of Myanmar have been described as a warzone.
It is more like a slaughter house.
Friends I have spoken to back home have asked how is it possible for people to commit such atrocities. A valid question that we should all ask ourselves. But for every act of terror, there are many more acts of bravery and generosity. The last 40 days have displayed some of the worst of the Myanmar. But also, it has shone a spotlight on the courage, tenacity and passion of the people of this country.
Ultimately, it is the people of Myanmar who will have to win this battle for themselves. Through the demonstrations, the CDM (holding firm and encouraging more of the security forces to break rank), and by putting pressure on China, the junta`s largest supporter, convincing them that Myanmar under the iron fist of the military is not good for business.
But the people of Myanmar need the support of the international community.
Here are some ways:
1) Write to your local member of parliament to ensure that Myanmar does not slip from the agenda. It is feared that the military have already identified a threshold of bloodshed that they can get away with. The international community must not come immune to the news of a `just` a dozen dead protesters in one day. The US, UK and Canada have imposed targeted sanctions on the leaders of the coup. However, only the US has extended this to the immediate family of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, and none have yet sanctioned the military`s businesses. No sanctions yet from the EU. There is still low hanging fruit which has not been taken. Movement is far too slow. At the UN Security Council China and Russia are blocking firmer action such as a global arms-embargo. Likewise, India and Vietnam have blocked statements calling the coup a coup.
2) The military has ties with companies around the world. They need to be pressurized into cutting all dealings. Find out which ones here.
3) Watch what is happening and speak about it. Share it. Willful ignorance is not an excuse.
There is hope. The democracy that Myanmar enjoyed over the last decade was far from perfect but there are now calls on the street to abolish the current constitution and start afresh. We are also seeing a welcome unity between the different ethnic races of Myanmar, as well regret for the disregard shown to the plight of the Rohingya at the hands of the military in 2017.
Furthermore, on International Women`s Day, while police avoided walking under skirts that had been hung high on the street for fear that it would sap their masculine power, men and boys of Generation Z proudly wore these skirts on their heads in a show of respect and solidarity with their sisters fighting on the frontline.
One final thought: do not confuse these demonstrations as a political rally for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. Yes, the NLD are intensely popular and as elected by the people they should be allowed to run this country.
But this mass movement is about more than the NLD.
It is about democracy, fundamental freedoms, and human rights. First and foremost, the people on the street care about having their voice listened to. They care about not living in a police state where a rabid, unmuzzled army can terrorize with impunity. They care about a future where their children will not be shot for wanting democracy.
They care about all these things.
And you should care too.