Students Take a Leading Role in Protests against the Coup in Myanmar

This article originally appeared on University World News by Naw Say Phaw Waa


After Myanmar’s military seized power in the first week of February, the mass of Myanmar’s younger generation are protesting against the coup in the strongest movement led by young generation students since the country’s 1988 democracy uprising. They joined teachers, factory workers and different groups of civilians in mass demonstrations countrywide as the protests intensified this week.


University teachers have joined the protests elsewhere in Myanmar | Photo Credit: BBC BURMESE

“The difference between the 2007 Saffron Revolution and now is that there are protesters who are the younger generation and are leading the protest actively against this 2021 military coup,” Ma Phyo Phyo Aung, a former student leader of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, told University World News.


The Saffron Revolution in 2007-8 was initiated by Buddhist monks in Myanmar against the removal of fuel price subsidies but was met with a government crackdown which led to many, including many monks, being jailed.


Myanmar’s Generation Z – those born between 1995 and 2010 – are easily able to access technology. Young people have been using popular internet memes and jokes to gain international attention.


Hundreds of thousands of new generation protesters have made their presence noticeable with different styles of protest – wearing movie action-hero costumes, wedding dresses and ball gowns, and other interesting and eye-catching costumes as they rallied.


“We, students and young activists had to follow the monks in 2007 but now the new generation are becoming experts in technology which makes the information flow across the world,” Ma Phyo Phyo Aung said.


Internet restrictions


Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications on Friday ordered mobile and internet service providers to take down all social media, especially Facebook, which is widely used in the country. The internet was reinstated after a day and half, but Facebook is still barred in the country.


“Technology is being restricted and banned which is one of the things that contributes to the education of young people. And now the military is preparing a draft cyber-security law. Because of this we can say we will return to the dark ages in education. It can go back to the worst situation like before,” said Ma Phyo Phyo Aung, referring to a draconian and far-reaching cyber-security bill being drawn up by the junta.


Among other provisions, the draft bill stipulates that service providers must set up data centres at a location assigned by the government; they must intercept, remove, destroy or suspend information at the government’s request; the government can assign officials to intercept data from specific persons or organisations; and the government can monitor any online service as it chooses.


Yangon-based human rights organisation Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been monitoring arrests, denounced the drafting of such a law “in contradiction to the democratic process”.


“The reported cyber-security law would be in direct response to the growing civil disobedience movement and a clear attempt to restrict Burma’s people’s freedom of expression, data protection and privacy,” the organisation said.


Myanmar’s military junta first started to shut down the internet five days after the 1 February coup. But this did not stop mass gatherings in the streets.


A dozen students have been arrested in the past week. They are among 230 civilians being detained, including elected members of parliament and political activists, according to AAPP.


“There is no list of last night’s and today’s arrests yet, but we will announce [the numbers] every day,” AAPP’s Aung Myo Kyaw told University World News.


Nine students from Mawlamyine University in Mon state were arrested on Friday morning 12 February after the military searched the university campus earlier in the week.


Incident at Mawlamyine University


“Military vehicles and police cars came to the Mawlamyine University campus at midnight on 9 February. They were wearing civilian clothes, so we don’t know who they really were. As soon as they came to the campus, all the students ran away and went into hiding,” Mawlamyine University mathematics lecturer Daw Yamohn, from Mawlamyine Township in Mon state, told University World News.


“That night they didn’t arrest anyone. I think they just wanted to scare the students. So the students didn’t go out the next day out of fear. However, students from the University of Technology came and asked them to join them and they protested again on 11 February,” Yamohn said.


“On 12 February [in the] morning, students were surrounded by military vehicles and police cars in front of Mawlamyine University. Then they started shooting, and beating the students. Some were shot by the rubber bullets but not seriously injured. Some students were detained and brought right away to the police vehicles. Most of the students ran away and are hiding now. It’s not easy to contact them,” Yamohn said.


Other eyewitnesses said the military vehicles and police cars were surrounded by civilians demanding the release of the students. Some were injured when the police starting shooting for the second time in the evening. The students were finally released on Friday evening.


“We don’t want our children to grow up in education that can’t even reach to the standard of the education enslaved to the military that we have been through [in the past]. I will not go back to teach at the university until our elected leader comes back,” Yamohn said, referring to National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested along with other political leaders last week.


Yamohn added that she would not accept a military-appointed education minister.


Security forces fired warning shots and used a water cannon on protesters on Tuesday in Mandalay and in the capital Naypyitaw. A law student in Mandalay told the Jurist legal news portal: “As a law student, I want to study the law freely… As a law student I want to do everything that I can do for my country.”


Ma Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing (20) was shot in the back of her head by a police officer at a rally near Tha-Pyay-Kone Roundabout in Naypyitaw while with anti-coup protesters sheltering to protect themselves against a water cannon.


“I just want young people to stand and fight bravely for their rights. Now she has laid down her life for it before she turned 20 on Thursday. She has only a 5% chance of surviving now,” a family member of Ma Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing told University World News on Thursday.


Ma Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing was confirmed dead on Friday.


At the same time in Naypyitaw a 24-year-old activist was wounded in the chest but not seriously injured.


As hundreds of thousands demonstrated across the country during the day, many activists, students and members of parliament were arrested every midnight.


Coup leader junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing appeared on state-run television on 8 February. However, he did not mention the mass protests nor State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. He said after one year of the state of emergency, he will hold a ‘free and fair election’ in accordance with the 2008 constitution. He also said the schools would open next academic year, which starts in December.


Yangon Students’ Union, University of Medicine 1 and University of Medicine 2, filed a report to the International Criminal Court on 11 February on the alleged crimes by the military and the police against pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar.

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