- Chloe Lawson
The Myanmar Military Coup: What We Need to Know
Since the start of February, increasingly horrific stories have come out of Myanmar following the Military’s seizure of power. In recent weeks, many civilians have been brutally murdered whilst fighting for their freedom. In this article, written in the earlier days of the coup, I spoke to my brother, who is currently living in the country, about what he believes we need to know about the events in Myanmar.
In the early hours of the 1st of February, the State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and several other senior officials were detained by the military. The first I heard of this, by admission being someone occasionally out of touch with global affairs, was an exchange on the family WhatsApp group. My elder brother, Bertie Lawson, is currently living in Yangon running a travel business. Understandably, my parents were concerned by the announcement of the military coup and my brother reassured them that he was safe, before relaying his belief that there was no immediate security threat. The viral video of a fitness instructor capturing the beginnings of the coup on camera added an element of humour to the takeover. Alongside the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement, the first group of protestors took to the streets on the 4th of February, waving banners and chanting, resulting in three arrests. In the early days, the atmosphere seemed almost convivial and marches appeared closer to parades as people from across the country stepped out against the coup. There were flowers, elephants, dancing and food given to the marchers. It was carnival-like.
In the early days, the atmosphere seemed almost convivial and marches appeared closer to parades as people from across the country stepped out against the coup. There were flowers, elephants, dancing and food given to the marchers. It was carnival-like.
Since then, protests have escalated and become increasingly violent. On the 9th of February, a 19-year-old protester Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing took a bullet to the head and died after 10 days on life support. The death toll on the 3rd of March alone was 38. In total at the time of writing, it is estimated that over 60 people have lost their lives on the streets of Myanmar and over 1500 people have been arrested, including journalists and public figures. Laws that demand court approval before arrest and detention have been dismissed by the junta. The military has begun firing live ammunition into the crowds of protestors, alongside the use of tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Internet access and use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp are restricted in efforts to discourage protestors.
My brother reports that the fear in the capital is tangible; “Some parts of Yangon resemble a war zone”. The internet is also shut off between the hours of 1 AM to 9 AM, paired with frequent, unsettling bangs throughout the night. If you support the Democratic movement in any way, you live in fear of a night-time arrest. It is undeniable that the goal of the security forces is to scare the population into submission.
“Some parts of Yangon resemble a war zone”.
Despite these troubling developments, the conversation about this amongst my peers has been limited. I find myself having to scroll for some time down the BBC news feed before I find any updates. Amongst the clamour of COVID 19 updates, Brexit aftershocks and spats in British politics, the voices of protest from Myanmar are somewhat drowned. I am in the fortunate, though the currently worrisome position of having a sibling in the country meaning that I was made aware of the circumstances from the beginning. That being said, I was still notably lacking in a comprehensive understanding of Myanmar’s recent political history. With this in mind, I asked Bertie what he believed were the most important things for us to understand about the violent seizure of power at the hands of the military.
Myanmar became independent from Britain in 1948. Since then, it has seen a near 50 year period of heavy-handed military rule that came to an end in 2010. During this period protests arose in the 60s, 70s and 80s of which little was publicised to the rest of the world and for which records remain scarce. The moves towards Democracy began in 2010, and in 2015 the National League for Democracy under Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi won by a landslide. In November of 2020, the NLD were once again voted indecisively, which appeared to take the military by surprise, and they began to protest in “Donald Trump-style” that the election was fraudulent. It was this that inspired their snatching of power on the 1st of February. Bertie emphasises, “the coup was the theft of a country. The smashing of dreams and hopes of over 50 million Myanmar people for the benefit of military generals.”
Bertie emphasises, “the coup was the theft of a country. The smashing of dreams and hopes of over 50 million Myanmar people for the benefit of military generals.”
Although some businesses have declared their disapproval of the Coup, such as Japanese brewer Kirin, it has become apparent that meaningful change must come from within Myanmar as opposed to the United Nations, action from which has been vetoed by Russia and China. The battle is for the entirety of the Myanmar population, but students, or ‘Gen-Z’ as they are referred to in the British press, have been at the forefront of the demonstrations from the beginning. This is a further reason why I thought it almost nonsensical that there was so little conversation amongst my peers. The younger generation in Myanmar are unwilling to surrender their connection to the rest of the world easily and are showing remarkable bravery and strategy when faced with military aggression. They are being shot at, beaten and murdered and continue to take to the streets in resistance of military rule. They write their placards in English in attempts to grab the attention of the international community. My brother emphasises that these students “Watch the same TV, listen to the same music, follow the Premier League and use Facebook, Instagram and TikTok daily.” They are fighting for freedom; “Freedom to vote in fair elections, freedom not to be harassed in the street by police and freedom to not have their private telecommunications tapped into.”
They are fighting for freedom; “Freedom to vote in fair elections, freedom not to be harassed in the street by police and freedom to not have their private telecommunications tapped into.”
He finishes by highlighting the importance of keeping yourself informed of the situation for their sakes, being aware of the horrific violence by the junta and engaging in conversations about what is happening. We must support by digging through the COVID updates and updating ourselves about the ongoing aggression in Myanmar.
This article was written by Chloe Lawson, a History Student at the University of Edinburgh. It was edited by Tamara El-Halawani, also a student at the University.