2021 Myanmar protests
Part of the aftermath of the 2021 Myanmar coup d'état
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 Min Aung Hlaing, and waving the NLD flag
Date2 February 2021 – present
Location
Caused by2021 Myanmar coup d'état
Goals
MethodsDemonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience, online activism, protest art
StatusOngoing
Parties to the civil conflict

Anti-government protesters:

  • Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)
  • Students/student unions
  • Labour unions

Supported by:

Lead figures
No centralised leadership
Casualties
Death(s)27 (26 protesters and 1 policeman)[3][4]
Injuries100+
Arrested1,000+ [5]

The 2021 Myanmar protests are domestic civil resistance efforts in Myanmar in opposition to the coup d'état on 1 February 2021, which was staged by Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces, the Tatmadaw.[6] As of 15 February 2021, at least 452 people have been detained in relation to the coup.[7] Protesters have employed peaceful and nonviolent forms of protest,[8] 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.[9] "Kabar Ma Kyay Bu" (ကမ္ဘာမကျေဘူး), a song that was first popularised as the anthem of the 8888 Uprising, has been revitalised by the civil disobedience movement as a protest song.[10][11][12] The three-finger salute has been widely adopted by protesters as a protest symbol.[13]

In response to the growing protest movement, the military leaders of the coup enacted a number of countermeasures. These include internet and social media blackout, a media blackout, pursuit of arrests and criminal sentences against protesters, the spread of disinformation, political overtures to competing political parties to participate in the self-appointed State Administration Council (to replace the elected government 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.[14][15][16] President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained, along with ministers and their deputies and members of Parliament.[17][18]

The United States formally declared the military's takeover a coup and vowed further penalties for the generals behind the putsch.[19][20]

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.[21][22] A Facebook campaign group dubbed the "Civil Disobedience Movement" has attracted over 230,000 followers, since its initial launch on 2 February 2021.[23][24][25] Min Ko Naing, an 8888 Uprising leader, has urged the public to adopt a "no recognition, no participation" stance to the military regime.[26] One expert on the government's civil service system estimated that the country had about one million civil servants and that about three-quarters of them had walked off their jobs.[27]

A teen protesting against military coup.

Healthcare workers from dozens of state-run hospitals and institutions initiated a labour strike starting 3 February 2021.[24][28] As of 3 February 2021, healthcare workers in over 110 hospitals and healthcare agencies[29] have participated in the movement.[23] 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.[30] Labor strike participants have faced intimidation and threats from superiors.[31] By 9 February, COVID vaccination had been suspended, and most hospitals in Myanmar had shut down.[32]

Protest under the Hledan Overpass Bridge.

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.[23] Staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, formerly led by Aung San Suu Kyi, have also joined the strike.[29] On 4 February 2021, in Naypyidaw, civil servants employed at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation staged a protest.[33] On 5 February 2021, 300 copper miners at the Kyisintaung copper mines joined the strike campaign.[34] Miner Sithu Tun stated that the strike would continue until the "elected leaders receive[d] their power back".[34] 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".[35] 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.[36][37]

Protest at Hledan Junction in Yangon.

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.[38] On 8 February, all of workers from Myanmar railways participated in the movement and so, the railway transportation is completely stopped. On 8 February, Kanbawza Bank temporarily closed its branches due to staffing shortages resulting from KBZ staff participating in the civil disobedience campaign.[39] Other banks were also impacted by staff participation in the ongoing campaign.[39] On 9 February, staff from the Central Bank of Myanmar joined the movement.[40]

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.[41] 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.[42] On 11 February, Min Aung Hlaing urged civil servants to put aside their personal feelings and return to work.[43] On 16 February, a Ministry of Information spokesperson warned civil servants participating in the movement, warning that authorities would not wait long for their return to work.[44]

A number of industry lobbying groups, including Myanmar Mobile Industry Association and Myanmar Cosmetics Association, have suspended cooperation with government agencies following the coup.[45]

Per CDM 2021 website, there are 2,082 government sectors of 24 ministries completely doing CDM and stopped functioning.[46][unreliable source?]

From 25 February, truckdrivers also began a strike against the coup by refusing to transport goods from the docks at Yangon’s four main ports. Joint secretary of the Myanmar Container Trucking Association said he estimates that about 90% of the 4,000 city's drivers are on strike, and have promised to deliver only essential food, medicine and fabrics for factories.[47]

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.[48] 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,[49] and bus lines.[48]

In response to the boycott, 71 engineers working for Mytel in Sagaing Region resigned in protest.[23] Some retail outlets have begun pulling Myanmar Beer from stores.[50]

On 5 February, Kirin Company ended its joint venture with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL).[51] The joint venture, Myanmar Brewery, produces several brands of beer, including Myanmar Beer, and has an 80% market share in the country.[51] Kirin's stake had been valued at US$1.7 billion.[51] 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.[52] Virginia Tobacco produces 2 popular local cigarette brands, Red Ruby and Premium Gold.[52]

Pot-banging movement

Since the onset of the coup d'état, residents in urban centers such as Yangon have 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.[53][54][55] On 5 February 2021, 30 people in Mandalay were charged under section 47 of the Police Act for banging pots and kitchenware.[56]

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.[57] 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.[58][59] On 6 February 2021, the first large-scale protests were organized in Myanmar.[60] The protests have largely been leaderless, organized organically by individuals.[25] 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 from moving further.[61] 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.[36] 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.[36]

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.[62][63] 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.[64] 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.[63][65][62]

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.[66] In response to growing public pressure, state-run MRTV issued a warning that opposition to the junta was unlawful, and signaled a potential crackdown on protesters.[67] Characterising the protests as "lawless," it stated that "legal action should be taken against acts that harm the stability of the state, public safety, and rule of law."[68][69] 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.

Thousands of protesters participate in an anti-military rally in Yangon's Hleden Junction.

On 9 February, protesters defied martial law, and continued to organize larger public protests across the country.[70] Police began a crackdown of protests, firing live and rubber bullets, and using water cannons to disperse the crowds.[71] Serious injuries prompted the United Nations office in Myanmar to issue a statement calling the use of disproportionate force against demonstrators unacceptable.[71]

Demonstrators carrying placards with several hashtag slogans.

Several police officers in cities like Naypyidaw and Magwe have also begun defecting to the pro-democracy camp.[72] 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.[73] Other officers who have tendered resignations have not been allowed to leave the police service.[73] On 10 February, a police troop in Kayah State mutinied, denouncing the coup.[74]

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.[75][76]

On 14 February, hundreds had gathered at a power plant in Myitkyina that had become occupied by the military.[77] Riot police and soldiers dispersed the crowds by firing shots and a water cannon.[77] On 15 February, soldiers and police in Mandalay fired steel balls and slingshots at protesters who had gathered at the Myanma Economic Bank, urging bank employees to join the CDM.[78] At least three protesters were injured.[78]

On 15 February, 100,000 protesters in Minbu, representing a diverse coalition of Hindus, Muslims, oilfield workers, and civil servants, gathered to protest their opposition to the coup and release of civilian-elected politicians.[79]

On 20 February, volunteer medics onsite reported two people were killed and 40 others injured in a clash between police and demonstrators in Mandalay. According to witnesses on site the police fired live ammunition to suppress protesters and force workers back to their jobs.[80]

On 22 February, hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered across multiple cities and towns. The local media Frontier Myanmar called it the biggest protest to date. Netizens have shared pictures of the protests on social media naming it the "22222 uprising".[81][better source needed]

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.[82] The following day, 300 elected legislators formed a committee to conduct parliamentary affairs, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).[83][84] The committee held its first session on Zoom.[85]

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.[86] 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.[87]

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.[83] The committee cited the military with violating Chapter 6 of Myanmar's penal code in overthrowing the civilian government.[83] CRPH has advised UN diplomats and the international community to contact the committee to discuss official government business.[83]

On 14 February, the Karen National Union issued a statement announcing its public support for the ongoing protests, and characterised the military's seizure of power as a step toward military dictatorship, contrary to the vision of national reconciliation.[88]

On 15 February, the Committee for Shan State Unity, a coalition of Shan ethnic armed groups and political parties that includes the Restoration Council of Shan State, the Shan State Progress Party, the Shan National League for Democracy, and the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, and the Sin Kyawt Militia, publicly opposed the coup, announcing its support of the ongoing protests, and calling for the abolition of the 2008 constitution and restoration of civilian-led government.[89]

Red ribbon campaign

On 3 February 2021, healthcare workers in Myanmar launched the red ribbon campaign (ဖဲကြိုးနီလှုပ်ရှားမှု).[90] The colour red is associated with the National League for Democracy (NLD), the incumbent political party that won the 2020 elections.[91] Ni Ni Khin Zaw, a popular Burmese singer and medical school graduate, publicly endorsed the campaign.[90] Civil servants and workers across Myanmar, including union-level ministries, have adopted the red ribbon as a symbol of opposition to the military regime.[92] On 5 February 2021, copper miners at Kyinsintaung mines unable to join the labor strike joined the red ribbon campaign.[34] On 6 February 2021, factory garment workers in Thaketa Industrial Zone joined the red ribbon campaign.[93]

Social media

Protest art depicting Min Aung Hlaing in Mandalay.
Demonstrators carrying placards with several hashtag slogans.

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.[94][95] Celebrities and social media influencers, such Sai Sai Kham Leng and Nay Chi Oo, who were silent or were slow to support the ongoing popular protests lost sizable online followings.[96] 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.[63]

Burmese netizens have popularised trending hashtags like #SayNototheCoup, #RespectOurVotes, #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar, #SaveMyanmar, and #CivilDisobedience.[97][94] Within a day after the coup d'état, the #SaveMyanmar hashtag had been used by over 325,000 Facebook users.[98] 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.[98] Burmese netizens have also ridiculed Min Aung Hlaing's short stature online,[99] and some pro-democracy netizens have joined the Milk Tea Alliance, an online democratic solidarity movement in Asia.[100]

Staged mass 'car breakdowns' and 'slow-car' movement

On 17 February 2021, many cars mysteriously broke down in busy streets of Yangon in a staged demonstration, in a creative attempt to block security forces and police to pass through the traffic and to thwart the government workers from going to work.[101][102] The movement continues on 18 February 2021 with many broken-down cars joined by some moving at a very slow speed to block traffic.[102][103]

Military regime's countermeasures

Internet blackout

On 4 February 2021, telecom operators and internet service providers across Myanmar were ordered to block Facebook until 7 February 2021, to ensure the "country's stability".[104] Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), a state-owned carrier, also blocked Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp services, while Telenor Myanmar blocked only Facebook.[105][104] Facebook had been used to organize the civil disobedience campaign's labour strikes and the emerging boycott movement.[104] Facebook is used by half of Myanmar's population.[104] Following the Facebook ban, Burmese users had begun flocking to Twitter.[97] The following day, the government extended the social media access ban to include Instagram and Twitter.[106][107]

On 19 February 2021, most ISP, excluding Mytel, blocked Wikipedia and other Wiki related websites.[108]

On the morning of 6 February 2021, the military authorities initiated an internet outage nationwide.[109] That same day, Facebook urged authorities to unblock social media services.[110] Facebook also removed the Burmese government's ability to submit content removal requests.[111][112] Internet access was partially restored the following day, although social media platforms remained blocked.[113] On 14 February, Telenor announced it was no longer permitted to publicly disclose the directives received from military authorities on internet disruptions.[114] Starting on 15 February, the military authorities initiated an internet outage nationwide again from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. daily but they didn't give any reasons why they cut out.[115][116]

On 22 February, an internet outage was occured from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. only in Yangon while other cities and towns were 1 a.m. to 9 a.m.[116]

On 26 February, Mytel, partly shared by the military didn't shut down internet while other ISP did from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m.[116]

On 4 February, following the Facebook ban, demand for VPN services surged in the country. According to a UK-based digital privacy and security research group, demand for VPN surged by more than 7000%.[112] One of the most popular tools is Psiphon, which has seen its user base surge from 5,000 daily users to over 1.6 million users with an average of 14 million daily connections since 4 February.[112]

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.[117] The draft bill would make internet providers accountable for preventing or removing content that "cause[s] hatred, destroy unity and tranquility."[117] A coalition of 150 civil service organizations publicly denounced the bill for violating the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, data protection, privacy, and other democratic norms in the digital space. They also criticized granting state authorities the ability to ban unfavorable content, restrict ISPs, and intercept data.[117] On 15 February, Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry urged authorities not to rush into enacting the law, noting that the law could negatively impact Myanmar's digital growth and hinder foreign investments.[118]

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.[119] 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, and denied allegations of helping Myanmar build an internet firewall.[120][119][121]

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.[38][122] 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.[122] 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 organizations.[38] Several journalists and reporters have been attacked by pro-military mobs whilst covering the protests.[123]

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.[7]

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.[124] 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.[7] On 5 February 2021, Maung Gyi, the 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.[7] 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.[125] NLD leader Win Htein was charged under Section 124(a) of Myanmar's legal code for sedition.[125]

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.[126]

On 8 February, authorities re-arrested Nang Khin Htwe Myint, Kayin State's chief minister, and Myint Naing, Sagaing Region's chief minister.[127] 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.[127] On 9 February, at least 100 demonstrators were arrested in Mandalay, including mayor Ye Lwin.[128]

On 13 February 2021, authorities have charged and issued arrest warrants under Article 505(b) of the law for seven high-profile individuals,[129] namely Min Ko Naing, Kyaw Min Yu, Mg Mg Aye, Pencilo, Lynn Lynn, Insein Aung Soe, and Myo Yan Naung Thein, for allegedly defaming the state and threatening "public tranquility" through their social media posts.[130][131][132][133]

On 17 February 2021, authorities issued arrest warrants for several celebrities, namely Lu Min, Pyay Ti Oo, Ko Pauk, Na Gyi, Anegga, and Wyne, for encouraging civil servants to join the ongoing civil disobedience movement.[134] According to The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), 495 individuals have been arrested as of 17 February 2021.[135][verification needed]

Inclusion of opposition political parties

The military has made overtures to competing political parties in the aftermath of the coup d'état.[86] 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.[136] On 3 February 2021, five additional civilian members were added to the Council, including Aye Nu Sein, vice-chair of the Arakan National Party.[86][137] On 6 February, the Mon Unity Party had announced it had accepted the military's offer to join the Council.[138]

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.[139][140] The rumour surrounding Suu Kyi's release, which was attributed to the military-run Myawaddy TV, triggered street celebrations and fireworks.[141]

Imposition of martial law

On 8 February, authorities began imposing martial law across several municipalities until further notice.[142] Martial law effectively institutes a nightly curfew from 8 pm to 4 am, bans gathering of more than 5 individuals,[143] public speaking, rallies, and protests.[142] Municipalities covered by martial law include 7 townships in Mandalay, and a township in Ayeyarwady Region.[142] 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.[143] Martial law has since been expanded to include 90 townships in 30 cities, including all the townships that comprise Yangon.[144]

Suspension of fundamental rights

On 14 February, the military regime suspended security and privacy protections enshrined in Myanmar's constitution until the state of emergency is lifted.[145][146] The newly passed law enables the Commander-in-Chief to temporarily restrict or suspend the fundamental rights of citizens, including arrests and searches without court-issued warrants, and detentions without court approval.[145] The State Administration Council also enacted Law 3/2021, which requires all residents to register overnight guests outside of their official household with their respective township or ward administrators.[145] The military era law had previously been repealed by the NLD-led government.[145]

Pro-military counter-protests

In the lead-up to the coup, pro-military protesters had begun rallying in an attempt to de-legitimise the results of the 2020 elections.[147] Wai Wai Nu of the Women's Peace Network noted the potential for violent attacks on pro-democracy protesters by pro-military protesters.[148] On 30 December, approximately 400 pro-military protesters and nationalists demonstrated in front of Yangon City Hall, in violation of COVID-19 guidelines.[149] On 14 January, about a thousand protesters gathered in Mandalay's Pyawbwe Township to dispute election results, waving military flags.[150]

On 28 January, pro-military protesters incited violence, hurling bricks at a police car in Yangon.[147] None of the protesters were arrested and were then transported away from the site by 10 unmarked vehicles.[147] On the evening of 30 January, approximately 500 pro-military protesters incited a riot near Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda.[151] On 2 February, the day after the coup, pro-military protesters and Burmese nationalists rallied in Yangon.[152] On 8 February, a group of pro-military protesters rallied at Sule Pagoda.[50]

On 9 February, a group of pro-military instigators arrived at a protest site in Yangon in 15 unmarked vehicles, seeking to provoke violence.[153] Many brandished large wooden clubs, and were otherwise indistinguishable from pro-democracy protesters.[153]

On 25 February, pro-military supporters marched through central Yangon. When they arrived at Sule Pagoda Road, where blockades were set up by the police force against peaceful protests, the police however removed the blockades and let them in. Afterwards some of pro-military protesters gathered at Yangon railway station and started marching.[5] Civilians responded by banging pots and pans and crossing their wrists as symbols of resistance. Tensions arose when the pro-military supporters openly attacked bystanders, residents and anti-coup protestors using sharp objects, knives, heavy sticks and slingshots, wounding four people seriously in the head and the other eight in other parts of the body. Attacks were also directed against members of the press and cars.[154][155][5]

Excessive use of force

Demonstrators on 8 February 2021 in Yangon.

On 8 February, police began using rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas, to disperse protesters at mass rallies.[156] 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.[157]

On 20 February, two protesters were killed and at least two dozen more were injured in Mandalay by the police and military in a violent crackdown. These people were residents of Maha Aung Myay Township guarding government shipyard workers involved in the civil disobedience movement from the police, who were forcing them back to work. In addition to firing live rounds, the police and military personnel also threw rocks, arrested, and used water cannons on civilians, in addition to severely beating many.[158][50][159] Despite international reactions to this incident, the military junta warned protesters that they were willing to continue using such lethal force, and instead claimed that it was the protesters who were "inciting the people [...] to a confrontation path". In spite of these threats, huge crowds gathered on 22 February, with some protesters saying that the recent killings had made them more determined to continue protesting.[160]

On 25 February, reports showed that police opened fire and used flash bang grenades into a group of residents in Tamwe township protesting the military appointment to replace an administrator in one ward.[154][155]

Shooting of Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing

On 9 February, 19-year-old woman Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing[161] had joined a protest rally on Taungnyo Road, near the Thabyegon roundabout in the Burmese capital Naypyidaw. Riot police quelled the rally, injuring several protesters in the process. She was standing under a bus shelter, taking cover from water cannons, while she was shot. Mya had been wearing a motorcycle helmet at the time of the shooting. Recorded video from bystanders captured the exact moment she was shot in the head. Subsequent analysis of images from the protest conducted by Amnesty International showed police carrying Myanmar-made BA-94 or BA-93 clones of the Uzi sub-machine gun, contradicting the Myanmar military's statement that security forces only had only deployed non-lethal weapons. Forensic analysis also indicated the shooting had occurred in the early afternoon, between noon and 1:30 pm.

Mya was admitted to Naypyidaw's 1,000-bed general hospital in critical condition. On the morning of 12 February, doctors unsuccessfully attempted to surgically dislodge the bullet from her head. Doctors declared her medically brain dead, due to the complete loss of brain function, and advised her family to remove ventilation. As of 14 February, her family had decided to take her off life support, but had not finalised the timing. Prayer services for her were held at the Mandalay University of Foreign Languages and Yangon City Hall on 14 February.[162]

Video of the shooting and a photo of her unconscious and blood-stained were widely circulated on Burmese language social media, with supporters dubbing her a protest martyr.[94] Citizens criticized and attacked two officers purportedly involved in the shooting on social media, although the identities of the shooters remain unconfirmed.[163]

On 19 February Mya's death was confirmed at 11:00 local time (04:30 GMT).[164]

Reactions

The violent use of force in Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing's shooting sparked national outrage, with celebrities and public figures such as Thandar Hlaing criticizing her treatment.[165] Nyi Nyi Tun, the chair of the Myanmar Motion Picture Organisation, stated "We cannot witness any more Mya Thwe Thwe Khaings" and urged the public to join the civil disobedience movement.[166] On 11 February, Mya's sister, Mya Thado Nwe, publicly addressed media outlets, and urged the public to "uproot the military dictatorship" for the sake of future generations.[167]

Thomas Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, mentioned her on Twitter.[168][169] On 11 February, UN Women expressed its condolences to Mya's family and called "on the military and police to refrain from using disproportionate force against demonstrators."[170] On 12 February, Progressive Voice, a coalition of 177 local civil society organisations, published an open letter to the United Nations Security Council, and cited the shooting of Mya as an example of escalating violence by authorities against protesters.[171][unreliable source?]

On 17 February, a 15 m (49 feet) long billboard depicting Mya's shooting was unfurled off of a pedestrian bridge in Downtown Yangon.[172][90] Protesters have also used her photos compared with ones of Win Maw Oo on protest signs.[citation needed]

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.[173]

Military deployment

On 14 February, the military deployed armoured trucks and vehicles in the regional capitals of Yangon, Sittwe, and Myitkyina.[174][175] Soldiers were also deployed on city streets to aid police, including members of the 77th Light Infantry Division.[175] In Yangon, soldiers were deployed to stand behind riot police.[176]

Casualties

A total of 27 people died during the protests, twenty-six of whom were protestors while the other was a policeman. The majority of the victims died of multiple gunshot wounds, fired by responding police officers and soldiers in the streets. The protest's deadliest day was on 28 February 2021, which resulted in the death of eighteen protestors.[177][178]

International reactions

3,000 protesters asking for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release at Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, Japan.

During his remarks on 7 February, Pope Francis urged authorities to serve the common good, promote social justice and national stability, and expressed his solidarity with the people of Myanmar.[179] On 10 February, U.S. president Joe Biden publicly addressed the ongoing protests, stating "And, finally, as protests grow, violence against those asserting their democratic rights is unacceptable, and we’re going to keep calling it out. The people of Burma are making their voices heard. And the world is watching."[180]

On 14 February, UN Secretary General António Guterres issued a statement expressing deep concern about the situation in Myanmar, highlighting "the increasing use of force and the reported deployment of additional armoured vehicles to major cities."[181] [182]He urged Myanmar’s military and police to fully respect the right of peaceful assembly and ensure that demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals.[181] He also called reports of violence, intimidation and harassment by security personnel "unacceptable."[181] On 16 February, during a parliamentary address, Singaporean foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan expressed alarm regarding violent clashes at protests, arrests of civil servants, internet blackouts and troop deployments and armoured vehicles in city streets, and urged authorities to exercise "utmost restraint."[183] UK prime minister Boris Johnson condemned the coup, tweeting "We stand with the people of Myanmar and will ensure those responsible for this coup are held to account”,[184] while the US denounced the death of protesters in Myanmar, where the State Department spokesman Ned Price stated that the country condemned the use of force against demonstrators.[185]The use of deadly force against protesters also drew condemnations from the French foreign ministry and the UN, who described such incidents as unacceptable[186] and urged the military to immediately cease such violence.[187] On 21 February, Facebook also announced the suspension of the military's main page, saying that "the army had breached its standards prohibiting the incitement of violence".[188] On 25 February, all accounts of Tatmadaw and its related media entities were banned from Facebook and Instagram, citing the “exceptionally severe human rights abuses" and a future risk of "military-initiated violence".[189]

See also