Before the 2021, few would have thought that Myanmar, a rising democracy in Asia, would once again fall to military dictatorship. The military junta’s increasingly violent and inhumane means of repressing protests have gnawed away at these hopes—and the lives—of the Burmese people.
On March 3rd, 38 people were killed, and only eleven days later on March 14th, a crackdown in Yangon took away another 38 protestors’ lives. So far, more than 120 people have died and many more are wounded and jailed. Secretly shot footage of security forces showing them attacking peaceful protestors, throwing tear gas and firing rubber bullets has flooded the internet. Those protesting who are caught face up to 20 years imprisonment. The new ruling junta has released more than 20,000 prisoners to prepare for the implementation of this law. Civil rights have been severely harmed by the daily suspension of the internet, closing of banks, and a nightly curfew. People no longer have the right to free expression. Under such circumstances, it is even more dreadful that a national ambassador’s emotional appeal for help to end the military’s rule resulted in his removal from office.
Previous promising attempts to open up to the international market before the coup are now at stake. With the escalating turbulence and instability, investors from Singapore, Australia, and many other countries are considering pulling out of their investments citing safety concerns. This rise in economic uncertainty is reflected in trends of the national financial market. The exchange rate of the Kyat against the US dollar has witnessed a sharp fall, and according to experts. The worst could still be to come.
To get a better sense of this incident on the ground, Catalyst interviewed a 28-year old Burmese citizen living in Yangon.
Ruolan Ma (RM): What restrictions and potential risks are people in Myanmar experiencing now?
Burmese Citizen (BC): The two significant restrictions now are internet suspension, which is from 1 am to 9 am, and curfew, which is from 8 pm to 4 am. Besides, banks and the financial market are closed for a while, bringing inconvenience to every citizen’s daily life. The block of access to the internet is the most disturbing restriction since losing connection to the outside world and being utterly clueless about what is happening causes great fear to the uncertainty. Now the security forces can readily barge into anyone’s door and take away our property without a search warrant. They can also stop a random car on the street and ask to check the driver’s phone. Suppose they find anything disadvantageous to them, such as a post of the slogan supporting the democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the person will be heavily beaten on the spot and arrested. This reminds me of how the articles and videos describe the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy protest… I never thought that I would experience anything similar and even more bloody.
RM: Could you briefly describe the protest you participated in?
BC: There was a violent confrontation with the military force. First, they threw tear gas at us, and if it did not stop the protest, they would directly shoot the protestors, even if no one was acting aggressively. Many protesters were injured or dead, and some, especially those left behind, got caught and were sent to jail. If [you are] lucky, you can pay 150 to 450 USD to bail them out. If not, the arrested protesters just went missing, which is devastating to their loved ones.I also think that people are treating the protest more seriously now since there were lots of protestors doing cosplay and holding inappropriate signs at the rally I went to two weeks ago, which is more like seeking attention to me. You can rarely see things like that now.
RM: How does the local press cover this incident? Do people still have the freedom to talk about politics?
BC: It is clear that the military is launching social media propaganda now. The TV channels only talk good about them, trying to fabricate excuses to conceal that people are dying from ammunition, creating an image that the country is safe under military rule, which is obviously a lie. Since most of the platforms for democracy have been taken down, the only channel where we can talk freely about the military’s savagery is Facebook. You can find tons of footage and pictures if you search on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, the military has realized how people use social media as a weapon and banned access to them. Now we have to use VPN to break the blockage.
RM: Is there anything concerning arising from the current civil disobedience movement?
BC: Unfortunately yes. There is a massive trend of social punishment targeted on anyone related to the military. People boycott their businesses and refuse to sell products to them. A while ago, there was private information about the relatives of people who work for the military all over the internet, and irritated Myanmar people are free to attack them through verbal insults.
RM: Are you still optimistic about the future of democracy in Myanmar?
BC: It is hard to tell what the future is going to be. Sometimes I feel desperate, because when I look out of my window, I feel like the war has already started. We are left high and dry, since no one is willing to help us due to the intricate international situation. But most of the time, I am certain that we still have hope for democracy. Everyone is against the military’s tyranny and is fed up with the deprivation of human rights. Even with the increasing danger, people are still protesting, contributing their efforts to the cause of democracy. However, I don’t think the dire situation now can be changed through peaceful negotiation.
As the interviewee states, there remains much hope amongst many Burmese despite the coup. Other than the perseverance and bravery that Myanmar citizens have shown, the unprecedented unity among different ethnic groups is a silver lining to this tragic event. At the anti-coup rallies, ethnic diversity is a salient characteristic. Many majority Burmans, for instance, now often publicly show regret for their discrimination which escalated the Rohingya Genocide and humanitarian crisis.
Certainly, solving the problem of ethnic discrimination through a military coup is neither intended nor ideal. However, it is noteworthy that, if power in Myanmar is one day returned to a democratic government, many Burmese won’t settle for less than a united and inclusive Myanmar.
Only then might the peacock on the NLD’s flag finally break free from the decades-long struggles which have so restrained it and dance freely with pride and dignity.
Edited by Zachary Beresin
Photo credits: “Myanmar protesters in Thailand” by Prachatai Published February 2, 2021. This work was sourced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)license. No changes were made.