Voices from the protest

"In Myanmar we are living a real revolution."

7 min
Saturday mass demonstration in Rangoon, Burma, against the military coup. The protest has adopted the three-fingered salute, symbol of pro-democracy demonstrations in Thailand.

Since the military coup, Myanmar has seen a month of daily mass demonstrations and fears have disappeared. For a week now, the military has been shooting to kill, but the Burmese continue to defy them in the streets and demand the return of the government of the detained Aung San Suu Kyi. The vast majority of demonstrators are young university students, between 19 and 25 years old, but there are also teachers, doctors, public workers, activists and even gangs. ARA was able to speak to three of them.

Thet Swe Win, political activist in Myanmar and founder of NGO Synergy-Social Harmony Organisation.

1. Thet Swe Win, director of the Synergy-Social Harmony Organisation, a civil society organisation in Burma

"This is a crime against humanity, the world has to react".

We have to switch to another chat room to speak safely, because Thet Swe Win is in hiding to avoid arrest by the police. Agents went looking for him at his home in Rangoon shortly after the coup because he is a well-known political activist and had to flee. One of his colleagues was arrested on the first day and had not been heard of until yesterday. Now Thet Swe Win knows that he has been put in prison. Just two days ago another colleague was arrested. He has had to leave his children, aged 7 and 4, to hide in a safe place, but he still goes out every day to protest in the street.

What is the situation on the streets of Burma right now?

— People are still going out on the streets every day, even though the repression is getting worse and worse. Since the police and the military have started shooting to kill, we no longer gather in the middle of the streets but in every neighbourhood, with barricades to protect us from the police, who shoot rubber bullets and tear gas but also live ammunition. The worst are the snipers who shoot directly at our heads. People don't have guns, just homemade things like fire extinguishers or construction helmets to protect themselves.

Are the protesters confronting the military? Are they fighting back in any way?

— No, we are not fighting, we can only protect ourselves because we have no weapons. Myanmar's Army, which has seized power, is a terrorist group that is killing civilians. They are even killing people in custody. These are crimes against humanity and the international community has to react. It is time to bring this to the UN International Criminal Court. But we don't plan to wait, we are fighting for ourselves. The younger generation, above all, will not stop fighting for their own liberation. But on the streets there are not only young people, there are also workers, teachers, doctors, everybody.

Does the situation in the streets resemble a civil war?

— In a civil war there would be two sides, right now here there is only a terrorist army attacking the population, which cannot be turned back. Two days ago in a neighbourhood near Rangoon in a single attack 22 people were killed and 40 wounded. When the wounded were taken to the hospital, some of them had to be operated on. The military went there and started shooting at the hospital. At night, they use bulldozers to clear the streets of barricades

Is the protest movement organising in any way?

— The Civil Disobedience Movement is just the government workers, who have gone on strike, but the umbrella that brings together all the groups that are part of the protest is the General Strike Committee. We organise ourselves into different committees and basically what we are doing is handing out protective gear to the protesters, such as protective helmets, bulletproof vests - not real ones, but made of rubber - and all kinds of protective gear for those who go out to protest

Is the main demand of the protest to stop the coup d'état and free Aung San Suu Kyi?

— Our cause is, first of all, to overthrow this military junta that has carried out the coup d'état. And secondly, we want to create a federal government. We want to do away with the 2008 Constitution, which was written by the military, and have a real federal constitution. And we also want all political prisoners to be released.

You are hiding to avoid being arrested. What do you think will happen to you if you are arrested?

— No one knows, they say that there are dead people in custody, anything is possible. None of us know what will happen to us. We don't know if they will arrest us or kill us in the street, but we will continue to go out into the street every day and we will continue to fight.

Su Lei Win, demonstrator in Myanmar against the coup and founder of NGO Parenting Myanmar.

2. Su Lei Win, founder of NGO Parenting Myanmar

"I have lived through a military dictatorship and I don't want the same for my daughters."

When the coup d'état broke out in Burma on February 1, Su Lei Win joined her former classmates from the University of Computer Science to go out and protest in the streets. She graduated some time ago, in 2004, but former students and new generations joined together to defy the coup, along with the vast majority of the population. This mother - divorced and with two girls aged 7 and 14 - who leads an organisation dedicated to parenting, is particularly concerned about the future of her country.

What prompted you to take to the streets to join the protest?

— I had to go out, for the future of my daughters, because we cannot allow them to suffer the same as we did. I lived through the military dictatorship and I lived through the events of 1988 [a popular revolt against the dictatorship that was heavily repressed]. I was about 6 or 7 years old then, the same age as my little daughter. I've already been through that and we can't let our children go through that too, it's 2021!

The last few days the army is shooting at the demonstrators, do you still go out on the streets?

— In the last three days I have not been able to go to demonstrate because I live a bit far from Rangoon, there is a bridge that separates my town from Rangoon and the roads are blocked. I am divorced and I have to leave the children with someone when I go to the protests. I have been doing it for the first few weeks, but these days I am afraid that if I go at night I won't be able to go home with them because the bridge will have been cut.

Are you afraid of violence from the army and the police?

— No, I was, but now I am not afraid at all. We have to fight for our children. I am lucky because my block of flats is very safe, but other neighbourhoods and cities right now look like battlefields. The police are shooting to kill.

What do you think the international community should do?

— I know a lot of people who are demanding that the international community help us. Maybe they should, but I think we don't have to wait for them to come and help us, we have to take our responsibility and do our part, we have to fight for ourselves, fight for our people all together. We have to be intelligent, we don't have to repeat the mistakes of 1988, but generation Z, the young people who are leading this protest, they are a very intelligent generation and they will know how to do it, we have to support them.

Is your main demand to release the imprisoned government?

— Aung San Suu Kyi is our mother, we call her that and that is how much we love her. When I heard the news of her arrest it broke my heart. She was already imprisoned for 15 years. Now she is 75 years old, she is very old, and she has the right to spend these years in peace. She is our leader and we are very proud of her. Maybe in other places there are people who don't like her, but for me she is unique. We want her to be released now and we want our democracy.

3. Lin Soe, Myanmar Civil Disobedience Movement activist

"We will continue to take to the streets until our leaders are released".

Lin Soe has been on strike since the military took power in Burma. He is a government worker and refuses to go back to work until the elected executive is restored. This engineer from the water management department of Myanmar's Ministry of Agriculture says that up to 60 colleagues who worked with him are also taking part in the protests called by the Civil Disobedience Movement against the military coup in Myanmar.

You have been protesting since day one, but in recent days the repression by the military and police has intensified.

— Yes, I am part of the public sector strikers and from day one we have been blocking roads and protesting against the coup. I have seen the attack by the military, they are shooting at people and right now protesting is very dangerous. They have already killed more than 50 people, but people are starting to prepare. They are not afraid to die. And the people are preparing to respond. They don't want to do it, but our leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, have to be released. We will continue to fight in the streets until they release our leaders.

Is this the main demand of your protest?

— The Parliamentary Representative Committee (PRC), made up of MPs elected in the November elections, has formed a new government, an alternative to the military junta, and the people of the Civil Disobedience Movement support them. The first thing we ask is that they release our leaders, but when they have done that we hope that the military will start a dialogue with civilian leaders and elections will be called

What are you asking the international community?

— The army is perpetrating more and more violence and right now we are weak. We need the help of the international community and we also need international military intervention to protect Myanmar's people. The UN army, the US army, I don't know, but we need international help

Right now the struggle in the streets is being led by Myanmar's youth.

— Yes, and it's very serious for me to see all these young people facing violence in the streets and cases like this 19-year-old girl shot in the head. We are seeing a revolution in the streets, a real revolution against the military coup d'état led by the young people

Are you pessimistic?

— We have three strengths: the first is the CRPH, the alternative government to the junta; the second is the Movement of Civil Disobedience, and the third is the general strike that means that right now only 20% of the public sector is working. Just yesterday, one of the ministers appointed by the CRPH called on all public workers to join the strike and the Civil Disobedience Movement before Sunday, March 7.