Opinion: The Everyday Terror of Life Under Myanmar’s Coup Regime

The author attending an anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar. Image: Courtesy.

Note: The author of this op-ed is a resident of Yangon who has been active in the anti-coup movement. He has asked to remain anonymous due to fears of repercussion from the authorities. 

I open my eyes, and see the sun shine through my window. “Phew. Thank god it’s already morning. The military didn’t come arrest me last night,” I think to myself.

Dates and days have become blurred in a life under a military dictatorship. Instead, every day is a day of protesting and resisting.

Like many friends of mine, I am not able to work at all. I am not able to focus on anything – anything other than protesting on the streets, writing to journalists, or sharing information on social media.

Although the military junta has banned Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, almost everyone gets around that using VPNs. The military itself was posting news and announcements on their Facebook pages – even though the regime has blocked access to Facebook throughout the country.

An image of the anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar, taken by the author. Image: Courtesy.

Fortunately, Facebook has permanently banned all military accounts on the platform on Wednesday (I hope the military didn’t pay for an annual VPN subscription).

The protest movement in Myanmar is a grassroots movement. With no leader, its decentralized nature means everyone is able to participate. With my friends and I, we normally go around the entire city – by foot – joining protests at different sites.

The nation saw the largest demonstrations with millions participating around the country for the 22222 protests – on the 22nd of the 2nd month of 2021. The atmosphere was hopeful, and jubilant.

Many people were donating food and water to protestors. All you needed to do was to show up at a protest site. Lunch, coffee, drinks, snack, ice-cream: all taken care of by generous citizens. Buses and cars are parked everywhere with signs that read “Free Ride.”

Paramedics tend to an injured protester during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (AP Photo)

My friends and I hailed a taxi to go protest in front of the Chinese Embassy. It was about a 3 km walk from where we were, and we wanted to go there quickly because some famous actors and actresses were going to be there.

I asked the taxi driver, “How much?” He replied, “Pay whatever you want, or don’t pay at all. I just want you to keep protesting.”

As the sun sets and a day comes to a close, darkness descends and fear rules the streets. Every night there is a curfew from 8 pm until 4 am. People will say to each other: “Be careful. The dogs are coming out tonight.”

And by dogs, they refer to the police, military, and their gang of thugs who lurk in the streets to terrorize residents. Military-paid criminals are dropped into neighborhoods by police vehicles and ambulances burn people’s houses, attack people with metal rods, stab innocent pedestrians, and poison water supplies.

Top: A video of junta supporters attacking demonstrators in Myanmar. 

This barbarity may surprise people watching the news from all over the world. But it does not surprise us.

Their behavior fit the very definition of terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of a political aim. The junta’s eventual aim is the subjugation of its people.

This tactic was used exactly 33 years ago, during the 1988 Uprising. The situation back then was worse, with the public becoming extremely violent. Things are different now. With social media, citizens have been able to reassure each other that non-violence is our biggest weapon.

The best revenge is not to do what they do. The best vengeance is to do what they did not.

An image of the anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar, taken by the author. Image: Courtesy.

In response to the thuggery, residents have banded together, seting up neighborhood watches and street barricades. Because there is an internet blackout every night from 1am to 9am, it’s become harder to share news on social media and warn each other of the dangers in the darkness.

But the regime may have forgot that social media is new; revolution is old. At the sight of criminals, residents would hit pots, pans – any object that makes noise – to alert their neighbors.

Within minutes, hundreds of people would come out to help the neighborhood watch find and capture these criminals. Then, the residents have to hold these criminals until morning before handing them over to the police.

But tragedy always finds its way into our neighborhoods. Just last week, a 36-year-old man was gunned down by the police, a bullet to the head.

A protester show bullets, shotgun shells and rubber bullets used by security forces during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (AP Photo)

Video footage also shows police on a pickup truck with a machine gun at the site of the shooting. This is not police work; this is terrorism.

But even as I write, darkness has descended upon the day. Friday, February 26 marks the first day of crackdown against protestors in Yangon. At this moment, police are beating up protestors, and shooting tear gas and live ammunition.

My social media is flooded with videos and livestreams of police breaking up protesters without warning. Bystanders have been arrested just because. Those who escape into shops and shopping malls have been chased inside by the police.

Now, there is darkness even before the sun sets.

But this shroud of darkness has hung over Southeast Asia for far too long. From Thailand to Myanmar, and Singapore to Philippines, the ghost of authoritarianism has haunted us since our birth. This crisis gives us an opportunity to unite.

Top: A video of a crackdown on anti-coup protest in Myanmar. 

This is an opportunity to cast away the yoke of tyranny from this region.

The people of Myanmar and the people of Thailand are separated by distinct cultures, histories and language. But we are united in our common struggle for democracy and freedom. We are united in our desire to live free from fear. We are united in our desire to live in a prosperous, democratic nation.

To that end, we are inviting netizens around Southeast Asia and beyond to come out on the streets tomorrow, Feb. 28, and make a show of solidarity with the struggle for democracy in Myanmar. Let us show the world that our common desire for a democratic rule will not be restricted by any borders.

Dear Thai neighbors, we need your voice, perhaps more than ever.