What’s Happening in Myanmar?

Myanmar, located in the South-East region of Asia, is a nation in transition, aiming to break free from a past marred by decades of authoritarian rule, military regime, and economic crises. Myanmar is rampant with pervasive government control, widespread corruption, unequal distribution of resources, and ineffective economic policies. The country was under a military dictatorship until 2011 when power was transferred to the democratic party led by the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) after a landslide win.

On February 1st, Myanmar’s powerful military junta carried out a military coup and seized control of the country. Power was handed to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The military detained ASSK, leader of the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and arrested other prominent and senior members of the NLD including the country’s president. According to the 2008 Myanmar constitution, drafted by the military themselves, the military can overthrow the democratic government at any time they choose and can seize power by declaring a ‘state of emergency, which they did on the day of the coup, claiming that the general elections held in November 2020 were fraudulent. The military refuses to accept the results of the country’s general elections as the NLD won the majority of the votes. The coup occurred the day before parliament members were due to swear in, ultimately preventing it from happening.

Internet connections and mobile services have been disrupted all across Myanmar since the coup took place. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are still banned, mobile data has been disabled for over a month, and wireless and public wifi services have been cut off. According to Amnesty International, only 0.5% of the country has internet, and even then, internet connections are disrupted across major cities, and in rural areas, the internet is completely unavailable. Martial law has been imposed including a curfew which allows people to go outside from only 6:00 – 20:00 and beyond this, everyone is expected to stay indoors. However, as of the beginning of May, the curfew has been extended and is now from 6:00 – 22:00. In several places across the country, international broadcasters are banned and local stations have been taken off to air only military-owned news channels to spread propaganda.

The military junta, otherwise known as the ‘Tatmadaw’ have removed 24 deputies and ministers and made 11 replacements including finance, health, interior, and foreign affairs. On February 5th, people started protesting against the military coup and shared their experiences on social media platforms, and on the 6th, the Tatmadaw cut off the internet to prevent information from spreading. Soon, on the 9th, the Tatmadaw proposed a draft 36-page cybersecurity law and sent it to all licensed telecommunication companies which allowed generals to silence their online critics, block internet providers, track user’s internet activity and access their data. From the 20th of February, the Tatmadaw ordered telecommunication companies to cut off the internet from 1:00 – 9:00 every night. However, this internet cut-off was lifted back on April 27th. At the end of February. the Myanmar representative to the U.N. Kyaw Moe Tun addressed the U.N General Assembly to call on the world to oppose the military coup.

In a letter written in preparation for her impending detention, ASSK condoned the military’s actions and expressed disappointment at them for again putting the country under dictatorship. She reaffirmed that the military had unlawfully taken over Myanmar and she urged her supporters to not accept the coup and protest against it. ASSK wanted a non-violent form of protest which led to the fruition of the ‘Civil Disobedience Movement’ where civil government workers would refuse to show up for work to strip the military of their financial assets which, in turn, would lead to fewer funds for the Tatmadaw to continue their rule. In the initial days of the aftermath of the coup, people didn’t go out to protest and instead they resorted to banging pots and pans at night while many individuals participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement. The Civil Disobedience Movement was prompted by healthcare workers when they stepped back from their non-essential work to oppose the military junta. Eventually, students, private-sector workers, and other individuals working for the state joined the movement. This movement became the forefront of the civilian resistance for citizens of Myanmar against the Tatmadaw.

The Tatmadaw is conducting an intentional murder spree on the people of Myanmar for opposing their rule. They have carried out indiscriminate psychological terror on individuals and are carrying out routine abductions, kidnappings, and arrests of innocent civilians. They are performing bloody crackdowns and massacres on civilians to take down the Civil Disobedience Movement. The military junta also forcefully enters and searches civilians’ houses in the middle of the night without any warrant and they have already arrested several doctors, protestors, activists, journalists, celebrities, and students for opposing the military junta.

The Tatmadaw has charged the 75-year old Nobel Laureate, ASSK, with illegally importing and using six unregistered walkie-talkies radios found during a search of her home and for breaking the country’s natural disaster law by holding public gatherings in violation of Covid-19 protocols. She has also been charged for attempting to incite public unrest and operating equipment without a license, violating a section of the telecommunications law. The Tatmadaw has been charging people who speak out and act against the military junta with ‘Penal Code 505’ where individuals are punished, tortured, fined, and imprisoned for several years in harsh conditions for opposing the Tatmadaw. On March 24th, 700 students and civilians who were detained since March 3rd were released from Insein Jail in Yangon. More than 23,000 prisoners and criminals including murderers and rapists were released by the military junta to wreak havoc on civilians. The Tatmadaw has also exploited young poor and under-educated people to incite violence in exchange for a small sum of money. All of this is part of the military junta’s plan to make it appear civilians are violent and cruel to justify their inhumane acts.

The military coup has had devastating effects on Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. The Rohingya people, one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, account for the majority of Muslims in Myanmar. They are denied citizenship, prohibited from accessing state services, and were even excluded from the 2014 population census which recognizes 135 ethnic groups in the country. Rohingya people have expressed support for demonstrations against the Tatmadaw and some have even risked their lives by joining rallies in a country where their identities and basic rights are not recognized. On March 23rd, a large fire ripped through the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh. The 34 camps in Cox Bazar are home to more than a million refugees who have fled Myanmar since 2017 to escape religious persecution and ethnic cleansing by the Tatmadaw. The UN Refugee Agency reported 15 people had died, 400 people went missing, 560 people were injured, 45,000 people were displaced, and 10,000 shelters were destroyed. The World Food Programme confirmed several of the food centres were decimated in the fire. The cause of the fire is unknown and is said to have lasted for more than 10 hours and is considered the worst fire to ever take place in the refugee camps. Many people across Myanmar have apologized and expressed regret for not advocating for them when the Tatmadaw committed heinous crimes against the Rohingya people. Nowadays, the Rohingya people and everyone else in Myanmar have one common goal which is to take down the Tatmadaw and overthrow Min Aung Hlaing.

Moreover, the Tatmadaw is orchestrating deadly airstrikes in several states across Myanmar. One example is the destructive airstrikes in the Kayin state that has led to thousands of Karen refugees fleeing to Thailand. Many of the villages targeted in Kayin are controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Army, two of the many ethnic armed groups to have come out in support of the protests and to condemn the actions of the Tatmadaw. Thai authorities have forced back more than 2000 Karen refugees back into Myanmar where they faced violence, torture, and death by the military junta.

Every year on March 27th, Armed Forces Day is celebrated by the Tatmadaw, a professional holiday that commemorates the start of the Burmese army’s resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945. However, this day has now been referred to as Anti-Fascist-Resistance Day by participants in protests against the Tatmadaw. On this single day, 141 civilians died in 44 towns across Myanmar at the hands of the coup regime’s armed forces. Several soldiers also fired live ammunition at the American Centre in Yangon. The Tatmadaw held their Armed Forces Day celebration in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Eight countries had sent their representatives to the parade – China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Russia; the latter even had their Deputy Minister of Defense attending the parade.

On 7th April, the Myanmar embassy in London, UK was invaded by the military attache alongside likely disguised soldiers and the Ambassador, Kyaw Zwar Minn, was under threat as he had openly condemned the coup and called for the release of ASSK. He was forcibly and illegally removed from his position. If the UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognizes and confirms the termination, it would legitimize the coup.

Furthermore, on April 10th, the Tatmadaw committed massacres in the city of Bago where the death toll has reached 82 after the bloody crackdown on the city. According to several activists, the Tatmadaw has been charging families $85 to retrieve the bodies of relatives who were killed in the massacre by the military junta.

A successful revolution to bring democracy in Myanmar will be a turning point for countries in ASEAN and beyond. We are already seeing that it is near impossible to rule a country where the majority of the population opposes your authority and a successful revolution would establish a new constitution that would reinforce federal democracy in Myanmar. An example would be set to other countries in the Southeast Asian region that democracy can be obtained and established when demanded by the population through a united organized movement. The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or CRPH has announced a government in exile with key politicians and representatives with Aung San Suu Kyi as the State Counsellor.

However, for the revolution to be successful, international communities need to speak out for the people of Myanmar and help them in any way we can. As of May 3rd:

  • Total Civilian Death Toll – 766 but the number of fatalities is likely to be higher
  • 50+ Children Killed
  • 4874 Civilians arrested by the Tatmadaw including 250+ leaders and politicians and 80 journalists
  • 1417 Arrest warrants have been issued
  • 76+ clashes and 45+ airstrikes orchestrated by the Tatmadaw
  • 2 Ethnic Armed Groups – Karen National Union and Kachin Independence Army – are engaged
  • 50,000+ Refugees
  • 87 days since social media has been banned
  • 50 days since mobile data has been disabled
  • 32 days since broadband wireless has been cut off

Economists have predicted that 3.4 million people could go hungry in this year alone and up to 27 million will starve by 2022. $3 billion of foreign investments in Myanmar have already been suspended and the economy has already shrunk by 10%. The situation in Myanmar will continue to escalate if necessary effective action isn’t taken as soon as possible. We have to urge foreign governments to take stronger harsher actions against the Tatmadaw and provide humanitarian relief and aid to the struggling helpless civilians in Myanmar. More importantly, we have to support the National Unity of Government to facilitate establishing federal democracy in Myanmar and delegitimizing the military coup.

Cartoon by @irrawaddyburmese, posted on @capediamond’s Instagram

Statistics included in this article have been taken from @fullbellies_forlife. Thank you @fullbellies_forlife for continuing to speak out against the military junta and advocating for democracy in Myanmar.

Disclaimer: All the information included here is accurate at the time of writing. We tried our best to report on what’s happening in Myanmar, objectively and authentically. The situation in Myanmar is continuing to worsen day by day so we feel it’s better to follow social media accounts that report on the daily news of what is going on in Myanmar to keep up with updates and if you would like to know more information about what is happening (accounts you can follow are given at the end of the article/last slide of the post). There is also widespread misinformation in Myanmar and few fact-checking tools for them. Due to the limitations of one article/Instagram post in jam-packing as much information as possible, we couldn’t include every crucial thing that has happened in Myanmar since the inception of the military coup.

Sources

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55902070

https://asia.nikkei.com/Location/Southeast-Asia/Myanmar

https://thediplomat.com/tag/myanmar/

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/31/military-coup-myanmar-suu-kyi-464232

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/myanmar-troops-fire-on-protesters-in-signs-of-feared-crackdown-14197926

https://graphics.reuters.com/MYANMAR-POLITICS/INTERNET-RESTRICTION/rlgpdbreepo/

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-idUSKBN2BP06T

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56493708

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1088012

https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7m898/myanmar-coup-protesters-regret-silence-over-rohingya-genocide

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56612247

https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Coup/Myanmar-junta-holds-military-parade-with-Russian-attendance

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/04/16/asia/bago-mass-killing-myanmar-civilians-intl-hnk/index.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-pacific-11712638


Edited by Mahitha Mamilla & Michelle Nishidera

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