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2021 Myanmar protests

2021 Myanmar protests
Part of the internal conflict and political crisis in Myanmar
2021 Myanmar Protest in Hleden.jpg
Wigging to myanmar military.jpg
Three-finger salute.jpg
Human chain in myanmar 2021.jpg
Myanmar military is worse.jpg
Clockwise from top:
  • Thousands of protesters participate in an anti-military rally in Yangon.
  • Protesters posing with the three-finger salute.
  • Protesters in a vehicle with anti-military slogans
  • A group of protesters forming a human chain in Yangon's Kamayut Township
  • A group of protesters denouncing the Min Aung Hlaing, and waving the NLD flag
Date2 February 2021 – present
Location
Caused by2021 Myanmar coup d'état
Goals
MethodsDemonstrations, Strikes, Civil disobedience
StatusOngoing
Parties to the civil conflict
Non-centralized leadership
Lead figures
Non-centralized leadership
Casualties
Death(s)1
Injuries20+
Arrested384+

The 2021 Myanmar protests are domestic civil resistance efforts in Myanmar in opposition to the 2021 Myanmar coup d'état, which was staged by Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw on 1 February 2021.[1] As of 13 February 2021, at least 384 people have been detained in relation to the coup.[2] Protesters have employed peaceful and nonviolent forms of protest,[3] which include acts of civil disobedience, labour strikes, a military boycott campaign, a pot-banging movement, a red ribbon campaign, public protests, and formal recognition of the election results by elected representatives.

Protesters in Yangon carrying signs reading "Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi" on 8 February 2021.

The colour red, which is associated with the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been donned by many protesters.[4] "Kabar Ma Kyay Bu" (ကမ္ဘာမကျေဘူး), a song that was first popularized as the anthem of the 8888 Uprising, has been revitalized by the civil disobedience movement as a protest song.[5][6][7] The three-finger salute has been widely adopted by protesters as a protest symbol,[8] while some pro-democracy netizens have joined the Milk Tea Alliance, an online democratic solidarity movement in Asia.[9]

In response to the growing protest movement, the military regime has enacted a number of countermeasures. These include an internet and social media blackout, a media blackout, pursuit of arrests and criminal sentences against protesters, spread of misinformation, political overtures to competing political parties to participate in the newly formed State Administration Council, the interim governing body, deployment of pro-military protesters and instigators, and the violent use of force to suppress protests.

Background

The 2021 Myanmar coup d'état began on the morning of 1 February 2021 when democratically elected members of Myanmar's ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were deposed by the Tatmadaw — Myanmar's military — which vested power in a stratocracy, the State Administration Council. The Tatmadaw declared a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Min Aung Hlaing. The coup d'état occurred the day before the Parliament of Myanmar was due to swear in the members elected at the November 2020 general election, thereby preventing this from occurring.[10][11][12] President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained, along with ministers and their deputies and members of Parliament.[13][14]

The United States formally declared the military's takeover a coup and vowed further penalties for the generals behind the putsch.[15][16]

Forms of civil resistance

Civil disobedience movement and labour strikes

A group of uniformed schoolteachers protesting in Hpa-an on 9 February 2021.

On 2 February 2021, healthcare workers and civil servants across the country, including in the national capital, Naypyidaw launched a national civil disobedience movement (အာဏာဖီဆန်ရေးလှုပ်ရှားမှု), in opposition to the coup d'état.[17][18] A Facebook campaign group dubbed the "Civil Disobedience Movement" has attracted over 230,000 followers, since its initial launch on 2 February 2021.[19][20][21] Min Ko Naing, an 8888 Uprising leader, has urged the public to adopt a "no recognition, no participation" stance to the military regime.[22]

A teen protesting against military coup.

Healthcare workers from dozens of state-run hospitals and institutions initiated a labour strike starting 3 February 2021.[20][23] As of 3 February 2021, healthcare workers in over 110 hospitals and healthcare agencies[24] have participated in the movement.[19] Six of the 13 members of the Mandalay City Development Committee, including vice-mayor Ye Mon, resigned on 3 February 2021, in protest against the coup d'état.[25] Labor strike participants have faced intimidation and threats from superiors.[26] By 9 February, COVID vaccination had been suspended, and most hospitals in Myanmar had shut down.[27]

The labor strikes have quickly spread to other sectors. Seven teacher organizations, including the 100,000-strong Myanmar Teachers' Federation, have pledged to join the labour strike.[19] Staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, formerly led by Suu Kyi, have also joined the strike.[24] On 4 February 2021, in Naypyidaw, civil servants employed at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation staged a protest.[28] On 5 February 2021, 300 copper miners at the Kyisintaung copper mines joined the strike campaign.[29] Miner Sithu Tun stated that the strike would continue until the "elected leaders receive[d] their power back".[29]

Teenagers dressed in cosplay school uniforms protesting in Mawlamyaing on 11 February 2021.

By 5 February 2021, the civil service strike included administrative, medical and educational sector staff and students at "91 government hospitals, 18 universities and colleges and 12 government departments in 79 townships".[30] Nan Nwe, a member of the psychology department at Yangon University stated, "As we teach students to question and understand justice, we can't accept this injustice. Our stand is not political. We only stand up for the justice". Lynn Letyar, a surgeon at Lashio General Hospital, stated that most doctors and nurses had been on strike since 3 February 2021. Staff from Myanmar National Airlines also joined the civil disobedience campaign.[31][32]

On 8 February, news emerged that state-run newspapers Kyemon and the Global New Light of Myanmar intended to halt publications to protest the coup.[33] On 8 February, Kanbawza Bank temporarily closed its branches due to staffing shortages resulting from KBZ staff participating in the civil disobedience campaign.[34] Other banks were also impacted by staff participation in the ongoing campaign.[34] On 9 February, staff from the Central Bank of Myanmar joined the movement.[35]

On 9 February, the impact of CDM activities led the Ministry of Health and Sports to publish a public plea in the state-run New Light of Myanmar requesting healthcare workers to return to work.[36] On 10 February, Myanmar's largest labour union, the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), announced plans to pursue prosecution for workplace officials who retaliate against employees joining the civil disobedience movement.[37]

Military boycott campaign

Myanmar Beer has become a target of the military boycott campaign due to its ties to the Burmese military.

On 3 February 2021, a domestic boycott movement called the "Stop Buying Junta Business" campaign emerged, calling for the boycott of products and services linked to the Myanmar military.[38] Among the targeted goods and services in the Burmese military's significant business portfolio include Mytel, a national telecoms carrier, Myanmar Beer, Mandalay Beer, and Dagon Beer, several coffee and tea brands, 7th Sense Creation, which was co-founded by Min Aung Hlaing's daughter,[39] and bus lines.[38]

In response to the boycott, 71 engineers working for Mytel in Sagaing Region resigned in protest.[19] Some retail outlets have begun pulling Myanmar Beer from stores.[40]

On 5 February, Kirin Company ended its joint venture with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL).[41] The joint venture, Myanmar Brewery, produces several brands of beer, including Myanmar Beer, and has an 80% market share in the country.[41] Kirin's stake had been valued at US$1.7 billion.[41] On 8 February, Lim Kaling, co-founder of Razer Inc., announced he was divesting his stake in a joint venture with a Singaporean tobacco company that owns a 49% stake in Virginia Tobacco, a local tobacco manufacturer that is majority owned by MEHL.[42] Virginia Tobacco produces 2 popular local cigarette brands, Red Ruby and Premium Gold.[42]

Pot-banging movement

Since the onset of the coup d'état, residents in urban centers such as Yangon staged cacerolazos, striking pots and pans in unison every evening as a symbolic act to drive away evil, as a method of expressing their opposition to the coup d'état.[43][44][45] On 5 February 2021, 30 people in Mandalay were charged under section 47 of the Police Act for banging pots and kitchenware.[46]

Public protests

People from Hpa-an protesting against military coup (9 February 2021)

On 2 February 2021, some Yangonites staged a brief 15-minute protest rally at 20:00 local time, calling for the overthrow of the dictatorship and Suu Kyi's release.[47] On 4 February 2021, 30 citizens protested against the coup d'état, in front of the University of Medicine in Mandalay, an act that led to four arrests.[48][49]

A protester waves the red NLD flag at Yangon's Hledan Junction.

On 6 February 2021, the first large-scale protests were organized in Myanmar.[50] The protests have largely been leaderless, organized organically by individuals.[21] 20,000 protestors took part in a street protest in Yangon against the coup d'état, calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Chants included, "Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win". Drivers honked their horns in support. Police cordoned off the protestors at the Insein Road–Hledan junction, preventing them moving further.[51] Workers from 14 trade unions participated in the protests. Livestreaming of the protests was attempted by mainstream media and citizen journalists, but was limited by internet restrictions, estimated to have dropped to 16% by 14:00 local hour. Police water cannon trucks were set up in Hledan and police barricades were prepared in Sule.[31] Protests spread to Mandalay and to the Pyinmana township of Naypyidaw on the afternoon of 6 February 2021. The Mandalay marches started at 13:00 local hour. Protestors continued on motorbikes at 16:00 in reaction to police restrictions. Police were in control by 18:00 local hour.[31]

Many people protesting against the military coup on the main road in Kyaukse.

On 7 February, public protests had grown in size and spread to other cities across the country. The largest protests in Yangon attracted at least 150,000 protesters, gathering at the Hledan junction and around Sule Pagoda in Downtown Yangon.[52][53] Protesters have demanded the immediate release of Suu Kyi and Win Myint, chanting the slogan "our cause" (ဒို့အရေး), and calling for the fall of the dictatorship.[54] Public protests were also organized across Upper Myanmar, including the cities of Naypyidaw, Mandalay, Bagan, Hpakhant, Lashio, Magwe, Mogok, and Pyin Oo Lwin, Taunggyi as well as Lower Myanmar, including the cities of Mawlamyaing, Dawei, Pathein, and Myaungmya, and Myawaddy.[53][55][52]

Protesters against the military coup in Yangon.

On 8 February, protests continued to gain traction. In the national capital of Naypyidaw, riot police deployed water cannons on protesters to clear out the roads, becoming the first known use of water cannons since the protests began.[56] In response to growing public pressure, state-run MRTV issued a warning that opposition to the junta was unlawful, and signalled a potential crackdown on protesters.[57] Characterising the protests as "lawless," it stated that "legal action should be taken against acts that harms the stability of the state, public safety and rule of law."[58][59] That evening, martial law and a nightly curfew was impose in major cities and towns, including Yangon and Mandalay, effectively banning gatherings of more than 5 people.

On 9 February, protesters defied martial law, and continued to organize larger public protests across the country.[60] Police began a crackdown of protests, firing live and rubber bullets, and using water cannons to disperse the crowds.[61] Serious injuries prompted the United Nations office in Myanmar to issue a statement calling the use of disproportionate force against demonstrators unacceptable.[61]

protesters cosplay lady justice
Protesters cosplay Lady Justice in Yangon (11 February 2021)

Several police officers in cities like Naypyidaw and Magwe have also begun defecting to the pro-democracy camp.[62] On 9 February, Khun Aung Ko Ko, a Naypyidaw police officer, broke rank and joined protesters, becoming the first on-duty police officer to join the pro-democracy camp.[63] Other officers who have tendered resignations have not been allowed to leave the police service.[63] On 10 February, a police troop in Kayah State mutinied, denouncing the coup.[64]

On 12 February, The Union Day in Myanmar, junta's crackdown became intense and turns into violence, shots were fired and several people were arrested in Mawlamyine.[65][66]

Recognition of election outcomes

Representatives elected in the November 2020 elections have not officially recognized the legitimacy of the coup d'état. On 4 February 2021, around 70 MP-elects from the NLD took an oath of office in Naypyidaw, pledging to abide by the people's mandate, and serve as lawmakers for a five-year term.[67] The following day, 300 elected legislators formed a committee to conduct parliamentary affairs, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).[68][69] The committee held its first session on Zoom.[70]

On 6 February 2021, several political parties, including the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), the Karen National Party, and Asho Chin National Party, announced they had rejected the military's offer to participate in the State Administration Council.[71] The Karenni National Progressive Party has publicly denounced the military coup and the coup's detrimental effect on controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing peace talks, and called for the NLD and Armed Forces to compromise, in order to resolve the country's political stalemate.[72]

On 7 February, the parliamentary committee condemned the military coup as a "criminal act" and dismissed Min Aung Hlaing's military cabinet as being illegitimate.[68] The committee cited the military with violating Chapter 6 of Myanmar's penal code in overthrowing the civilian government.[68] CRPH has advised UN diplomats and the international community to contact the committee to discuss official government business[68]

Red ribbon campaign

On 3 February 2021, healthcare workers in Myanmar launched the red ribbon campaign (ဖဲကြိုးနီလှုပ်ရှားမှု).[73] The colour red is associated with the National League for Democracy (NLD), the incumbent political party that won the 2020 elections.[74] Ni Ni Khin Zaw, a popular Burmese singer and medical school graduate, publicly endorsed the campaign.[73] Civil servants and workers across Myanmar, including union-level ministries, have adopted the red ribbon as a symbol of opposition to the military regime.[75] On 5 February 2021, copper miners at Kyinsintaung mines unable to join the labour strike joined the red ribbon campaign.[29] On 6 February 2021, factory garment workers in Thaketa Industrial Zone joined the red ribbon campaign.[76]

Social media

Protest art depicting Min Aung Hlaing in Mandalay.
lady justice cosplayer
Lady Justice cosplayer in Myanmar Military Coup Protest (11 February 2021)

Burmese celebrities and politicians, including Paing Takhon and Daung, have publicly supported civil resistance efforts, posing with the three-finger salute in social media posts.[77][78] Burmese netizens have popularised trending hashtags like #SayNototheCoup, #RespectOurVotes, #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar, #SaveMyanmar, and #CivilDisobedience.[79][77] Within a day after the coup d'état, the #SaveMyanmar hashtag had been used by over 325,000 Facebook users.[80] Social media users had also changed their profile pictures to black to show their sorrow or red in support of the NLD, often with a portrait of Suu Kyi.[80] On 7 February, Nay Soe Maung, son-in-law of Myanmar's former dictator Than Shwe, posted a Facebook photo demonstrating support for the protests.[53] Burmese netizens have also ridiculed Min Aung Hlaing's short stature online.[81]

Military regime's countermeasures

Internet blackout

On 4 February 2021, telecom operators and internet providers across Myanmar were ordered to block Facebook until 7 February 2021, to ensure the "country's stability".[82] Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), a state-owned carrier, also blocked Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp services, while Telenor Myanmar blocked only Facebook.[83][82] Facebook had been used to organize the civil disobedience campaign's labour strikes and the emerging boycott movement.[82] Facebook is used by half of Myanmar's population.[82] Following the Facebook ban, Burmese users had begun flocking to Twitter.[79] The following day, the government extended the social media access ban to include Instagram and Twitter.[84][85] On the morning of 6 February 2021, the military authorities initiated an internet outage nationwide.[86] That same day, Facebook urged authorities to unblock social media services.[87] Internet access was partially restored the following day, although social media platforms remained blocked.[88]

Proposed cybersecurity law

On 9 February, a 36-page draft cybersecurity law was circulated to Myanmar's mobile operators and telecoms license holders for industry feedback.[89] The draft bill would make internet providers accountable for preventing or removing content that "cause[s] hatred, destroy unity and tranquility."[89] A coalition of 150 civil service organisations publicly denounced the bill for violating the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, data protection, and privacy, and other democratic norms in the digital space, and for granting state authorities the ability to ban unfavorable content, restrict ISPs, and intercept data.[89]

On 11 February, hundreds of protesters gathered at the Embassy of China in Yangon, based on online rumours that China had brought in telecommunications equipment and IT experts to Myanmar via recent flights.[90] The Chinese embassy attempted to dismiss the rumours on Facebook by publishing a statement from the China Enterprises Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar which claimed that recent cargo flights had only transported goods like seafood.[90][91]

Media blackout

During the ongoing internet and media blackout, many have switched to radio to obtain news. A handwritten Burmese sign reads "Radios are now available," with the acronyms of several major international radio news stations, including BBC, VOA, and RFA.

Since the coup on 1 February, authorities have blocked popular news channels, including free-to-air channels like the Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima TV, as well as foreign news channels, including CNN, NHK, and BBC.[33][92] On 7 February, the regime also blocked the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist and two wire services, the Associated Press and Reuters.[92] A Myanmar Press Council representative has expressed concern over the future of freedom of the press in the country, the public's right to access information, and the future of Myanmar's nascent news organisations.[33]

Arrests and charges

Law enforcement authorities have acted swiftly in quelling opposition to the coup. As of 7 February 2021, 152 people were under detention in relation to the coup d'état.[2]

The military regime has begun initiating criminal proceedings against detainees. On 3 February 2021, Thawbita, a Buddhist monk was sentenced to 2 years in prison under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, for defamation of the military.[93] On 4 February 2021, three university students, Zu Zu Zan, Aung Myo Ko, and Htoo Khant Thaw, were charged under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for protesting in Mandalay.[2] On 5 February 2021, Maung Gyi, chair of the United Nationalities Democratic Party, was arrested, charged and sentenced to two years under Penal Code Section 505(b) for staging a protest in Hpa-an Township, Kayin State.[2] Cho Yu Mon, a school principal, was also arrested and charged under Penal Code Section 505(b) for taking part in a "red ribbon" campaign at her school in Hpa-an.[94] NLD leader Win Htein was charged under Section 124(a) of Myanmar's legal code for sedition.[94]

On 6 February, Sean Turnell, the Australian economic policy advisor to the NLD-led civilian government and a Macquarie University professor, was detained, becoming the first known foreign national to be arrested in relation to the coup.[95]

On 8 February, authorities re-arrested Nang Khin Htwe Myint, Kayin State's chief minister, and Myint Naing, Sagaing Region's chief minister.[96] Nang Khin Htwe Myint had published remarks online urging solidarity between soldiers and the people, pointing out that the army was funded by taxes and state funds, while Myint Naing had posted a speech calling on the public to continue protesting.[96]

On 9 February, at least 100 demonstrators were arrested in Mandalay, including vice-mayor Ye Lwin.[97]

Inclusion of opposition political parties

The military has made overtures to competing political parties in the aftermath of the coup d'état.[71] On 2 February 2021, it formed the State Administration Council, as Myanmar's interim governing body. The Council's membership included several civilian politicians, including Mahn Nyein Maung, a former member of the Karen National Union, Thein Nyunt, and Khin Maung Swe, co-founders of the National Democratic Force, a splinter group from the NLD.[98] On 3 February 2021, five additional civilian members were added to the Council, including Aye Nu Sein, vice-chair of the Arakan National Party.[71][99] On 6 February, the Mon Unity Party had announced it had accepted the military's offer to join the Council.[100]

Spread of misinformation

The internet blackout has fueled the spread of misinformation, including unsubstantiated rumours of Suu Kyi's release, the death of high-profile NLD leaders, and the fall of Min Aung Hlaing.[101][102] The rumour surrounding Suu Kyi's release, which was attributed to the military-run Myawaddy TV, triggered street celebrations and fireworks.[103]

Imposition of martial law

On 8 February, authorities began imposing martial law across several municipalities until further notice.[104] Martial law effectively institutes a nightly curfew from 8 pm to 4 am, bans gathering of more than 5 individuals,[105] public speaking, rallies, and protests.[104] Municipalities covered by martial law include 7 townships in Mandalay, and a township in Ayeyarwady Region.[104] Martial law has since been expanded to include several urban townships in Yangon, Shwebo, Monywa, Sagaing, Kalay in Sagaing Region, Bago, and Pharsong in Kayah State, where significant protests had emerged.[105] Martial law has since been expanded to include 90 townships in 30 cities, including all the townships that comprise Yangon.[106]

Pro-military counter-protests

In the lead-up to the coup, pro-military protesters had begun rallying in an attempt to delegitimise the results of the 2020 elections.[107] Wai Wai Nu of the Women's Peace Network noted the potential for violent attacks on pro-democracy protesters by pro-military protesters.[108] On 30 December, approximately 400 pro-military protesters and nationalists demonstrated in front of Yangon City Hall, in violation of COVID-19 guidelines.[109] On 14 January, about a thousand protesters gathered in Mandalay's Pyawbwe Township to dispute election results, waving flags with army insignia.[110]

On 28 January, pro-military protesters incited violence, hurling bricks at a police car in Yangon.[107] None of the protesters were arrested, and were then transported away from the site by 10 unmarked vehicles.[107] On the evening of 30 January, approximately 500 pro-military protesters incited a riot near Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda.[111] On 2 February, the day after the coup, pro-military protesters and Burmese nationalists rallied in Yangon.[112] On 8 February, a group of pro-military protesters rallied at Sule Pagoda.[40]

On 9 February, a group of pro-military instigators arrived at a protest site in Yangon in 15 unmarked vehicles, seeking to provoke violence.[113] Many brandished large wooden clubs, and were otherwise indistinguishable from pro-democracy protesters.[113]

Excessive use of force

On 8 February, police began using rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas and probably live ammunition, to disperse protesters at mass rallies.[114] The military leader Min Aung Hlaing ordered a clampdown and suppression of demonstrations as protesters nationwide embarked on a strike. On 9 February, 2 protesters in Naypyidaw were admitted to a local hospital in critical condition, for gunshot wounds.[115] A 19-year-old woman, Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing,[116] was pronounced brain dead,[117] and placed on life support after being shot in the head with live ammunition[118] by the police.[119][120] Reports of injured protesters prompted Ola Almgren, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar to issue a statement condemning the authority's violent use of force.[121] In Yangon, soldiers were deployed to stand behind riot police.[122]

Gallery

See also

References

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