A voice from Myanmar

Image Credit: Michael Coghlan, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

I am from Myanmar, and I woke up to a military coup d'état in my own country earlier this month. I am safe and sound here in Ireland, but the same cannot be said for my fellow Burmese back home. Their voices have been silenced — and I am their voice.

Myanmar is now under military dictatorship again after a slow, yet steady track towards democracy. My father grew up under the military regime and has renewed hope after the democratic reforms of the 2010s. I was born into an era of hope; an era of dreams. However, this potentially would not be the case for my niece, for whom I was happy to know would grow up in a better Myanmar.

As a student of Information Communications and a scholar in Performance and Media Studies, I am terrified of the recent political developments in Myanmar. I am well-aware of the power the military has through controlling the media and the telecommunications industry. Narratives can flip within moments through suppression of information which unfortunately is already in the process of happening.

I am proud of my fellow citizens. I am inspired by their bravery. I am encouraged by their resilience. This is not the first time it has happened. This is not something new—but this must end. What has started in the generations of my parents and grandparents need not to be the case for mine nor my children’s generation. However, they have messed with the wrong generation. We do not stand for this.

Throughout the country, peaceful protests in the form of civil disobedience are taking place. We do not wish history to be repeated: we do not want this to be the second 8888 Uprising in which thousands of people were shot in cold blood by the very military that has taken over the country in recent days.

People are banging pots and pans every night at 8pm on the dot to shoo away the evil. People are honking their car horns to show their disdain of the current situation. People are lighting candles in solidarity for those who are detained. People are risking their livelihoods by not going into work as a form of civil disobedience.

Hundreds upon thousands of people are taking the streets to peacefully protest the military dictatorship with oftentimes humorous slogans. Everyone is using social media to raise awareness. We are screaming as loud as we can. As one protester said: “Our country is just a bird, learning how to fly. Now the army broke our wings.”

During one of these peaceful protests, Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing lost her life. She was shot dead in the head by the police just shy from turning twenty. Mya had dreams that she wanted to achieve— Mya could have been one of us. Please do not let her blood be in vain. This is to say things are slowly, but surely, getting violent. There are also reports of the police spraying chemical infused water using water cannons, shooting rubber bullets, and throwing tear gas to break up peaceful protests.

2020 Burmese General Elections marked Myanmar’s second free and fair elections in several decades. Although I could not travel to the UK to vote in the election due to Covid-19 restrictions, my 14-year-old self was looking forward to this moment since 2015 when the first elections were held. However, I am worried I will not have the chance to cast a ballot for Myanmar in my lifetime, at least in an election in which the results will be honoured.

I might not be able to return home after the pandemic as air travel is halted indefinitely to and from Myanmar. This coup has resounding consequences for the citizens of Myanmar, both within and abroad. Even if I can return, I am scared for my life because there is a real chance that I will be prosecuted. There is a real possibility I will have to claim asylum if the situation worsens.

The military is not acting in the interest of the public. The cargo plane with the second batch of Covid-19 vaccines from India was not allowed into Myanmar due to closed borders. The available vaccines within the country meant for the most vulnerable— the elderly and frontline workers— are taken away to be administered to those within the military. My father is in this category: he will die if he gets Covid-19.

However, there is news that five cargo planes from China landed at one of Myanmar’s airports only for its contents to be escorted away in armoured military vehicles. The Embassy of China in Myanmar has released a statement declaring that the goods are in fact ‘seafood.’ How is it that planes carrying ‘seafood’ could land when planes containing Covid-19 vaccines are not permitted to land?

The public is suspecting that the planes contain either weapons or telecommunications equipment. If they are weapons, there is a real possibility that peaceful protests are going to end in massive bloodshed. If they are telecommunications equipment, there is a real possibility that Myanmar will be the second North Korea or China, where internet usage will be heavily monitored.

This is a real concern: the military has released a draft of a new legislation titled ‘Cyber Security Law’ in which most of the internet usage which we take granted here in Ireland would be deemed illegal in Myanmar. It is set to take effect from February 15.  If this law were to pass— and it is nearly certain that it will, there will be communications blackout. Circulation of information within the country will be impossible. Those who are not in Myanmar will not know the atrocities occurring inside its borders.

This is not the only censorship that is occurring. The military has already blocked Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp— these cannot be used in the country without a VPN. Facebook is the whole of the internet in Myanmar. The majority of people rely on Facebook to get information, to contact their friends, to make a livelihood through the Marketplace. Cutting off Facebook means effectively getting rid of small businesses and the circulation of information.

I, myself, have lost contact with my father once already—for twenty-four hours, within the span of two weeks. I woke up expecting a ‘good morning’ text from him—only to see him not be online. Within the country, news channels are off-air except for the military-controlled MRTV and MWD. MRTV and MWD are airing military propaganda and false news 24/7.

The very organization that is supposed to protect us are abusing our human rights. There are armoured vehicles patrolling the streets of Myanmar. Martial law has been enacted across the nation, meaning citizens are not allowed to leave their residences from 8PM through 4AM without the risk of getting shot or arrested. It is during this time the military raids houses of those who speak up against their regime without a warrant. These have included student leaders, lawyers, teachers, and influencers.

The military has also released a statement claiming that they will prosecute activists on social media speaking out against the regime. They can prosecute those speaking up about the coup on social media. It does not mean they have the right to do it, but the scary thing is that they can— and they will do it. After all, this is the very military that said, “when the army shoots, it shoots to kill” during the 8888 Uprising where thousands of people were shot dead while protesting.

I am aware that the international public are very critical of Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to defend the military in the International Court of Justice regarding their campaign involving the persecution of the Rohingya minority. However, this is a matter of upholding the democratic process. Myanmar’s transition into a quasi-civilian government was hard-earned by the citizens after years of oppression, and it is disheartening to see it shatter overnight.

Although I am not attempting to excuse Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to defend the military in the ICJ, I urge you to consider her circumstances. It must be noted that the military has more power in the government—after all, the military detained the members of the opposition overnight. If she were to not comply with the military’s request for defence, decades of hard work would have gone down the drain immediately. It was essential she maintained an amicable relationship with the military.

This is not to say that I am turning a blind eye to the power Aung San Suu Kyi has as a prominent public figure with the media on her side. Had she condemned it; she would have had international support. It is also a privilege to be able to take hard-line stances on issues. This is not possible in many countries where the intricacies of politics should be considered. Please do not take for granted the freedom of expression and assembly. In Myanmar, you can be shot.

I just turned twenty. I have dreams and aspirations. Under this military regime, I would not be able to realize most of my goals. My future is dark. I cannot be alone in this fight— the people of Myanmar need your support in raising awareness. We need action, not words. Pressure countries and international organizations to act against the regime. We want the military to take responsibility. Do what citizens of Myanmar cannot— amplify their voices