Central Yangon, Myanmar (file photo). There is currently a high level of unrest, according to locals, and the army has focused on taking control of the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Photo credit: Stella Paul / IPS
HYDERABAD, Feb.2 (IPS) – Ni Ni Aye from Yangon went to her office yesterday morning. A few hours earlier, the army orchestrated a coup by seizing power and declaring a state of emergency in Myanmar. Ni Aye, an employee of one of the largest technology companies in Yangon, tried to call her colleagues and family, but the phone services were down. So she decided to go to the office and see what was going on.
“There were no armored vehicles or soldiers with heavy weapons, but everything was extremely quiet. It was very confusing; Nobody had any idea what was really going on. Then we realized that the action was taking place in the capital, ”Ni Aye told IPS.
However, the finding was very worrying for Ni Aye, whose family has just moved to Nay Pyi Taw – the country’s capital over 367 km north of Yangon, which is currently under COVID-19 quarantine. “I don’t know about you. If you have food in the quarantine center. I can’t reach you. I’m very worried,” she told IPS.
After the first day of the military coup was over, the general state of confusion and fear spread, according to several people IPS had spoken to. Most of them said they knew a coup could happen but didn’t think it would happen anytime soon.
A coup in preparation
Myanmar returned to democracy in 2011 after nearly three decades of military rule. Aung San Suu Kyi was installed as the country’s civilian leader in the country’s first national elections in 2015. Last November, the national election took place in Myanmar, which resulted in a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Suu Kyi.
However, some opposition parties, including the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party and the Kayin People’s Party, which represent the Shan and Kayin minorities, respectively, complained about the falsification of the elections, Htet Htet, journalist and general secretary of the Myanmar Women Journalists’ Association in Yangon, said IPS.
Htet said the signs of an impending coup d’état on January 31 became clear when the army issued a press release saying the government could not address allegations of electoral fraud.
A few hours later, on the morning of February 1, Myawaddy – an army-owned television station – announced the takeover a few hours before Parliament’s opening session. It announced a year-long state of emergency and the handover of power to military chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Since then, at least 24 prominent politicians, including civil leader Suu Kyi, several members of her cabinet, student leaders and authors, have been arrested, according to a social media post by Human Rights Watch researcher Manny Maung.
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar (file photo). On the morning of February 1, Myawaddy – an army-owned television station – announced the coup d’état a few hours before the opening session of Parliament. It announced a year-long state of emergency and the handover of power to the military chief Min Aung Hlaing. Photo credit: Stella Paul / IPSImpact on the Rohingya
During the entire rule of Suu Kyi, the attacks and persecution of Rohingya Muslims have been relentless. The 600,000 minority had been banned from voting in November – a result of two discriminatory laws, the Citizenship Act and the Electoral Act.
Both laws were passed in 1982 by the then military government to disenfranchise the Rohingya and prevent them from running for office, although most Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Many Rohingya leaders hoped that NLD leader Suu Kyi would change these laws and policies after the 2015 elections. Instead, according to activists, the NLD supported the military in ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and possible genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.
“If the government really wanted to protect us, it would have given us citizenship and the right to vote and vote in the recent elections. Instead, Myanmar almost completely excluded us from the elections. Without this fundamental right to citizenship as Rohingya, we are still vulnerable to genocide in our name and identity, ”said Tun Khin of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK in a statement on January 25th.
Dus Mohammed is the head of the Rohingya Youth Association. In 2017, Mohammed fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State fearing an imminent army attack on his life. Violence in August 2017 in Rakhine state resulted in more than 700,000 Rohingya people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
When asked how the coup might affect Rohingya lives, Mohammed told IPS that the return of the military to power will likely “give them more freedom to persecute the minority community”. “Suu Kyi has done nothing to resolve the crisis or restore Rohingya rights. The army will definitely continue with the same policy of persecution, Maye with more freedom, ”Mohammed told IPS from Bangkok, where he now lives.
Greater threat to media and free speech?
Last September, Suu Kyi’s government declared journalism a non-essential business, placing many journalists on stay-at-home instructions and creating significant barriers to their travel to election-related events. Publications also struggled to produce physical copies of newspapers and magazines.
As a result, many well-known media outlets have stopped selling newspapers, while the two state-run newspapers that support the government have continued to print.
On the morning of February 1, telephone services across Myanmar were cut. Mobile and internet data were not closed, but very weak. However, the government of Myanmar has used internet and cellular services extensively as a tool to control the media and freedom of speech.
In conflict areas such as Rakhine and Chin states, government-imposed internet restrictions had a big impact on the November elections as candidates and locals were unable to share or exchange information.
Previously, on June 23, the Ministry of Transport and Communications restricted 3G and 4G services and only allowed 2G data networks, which are too slow to access video calls, e-mails or websites with photos or videos.
Locals – especially media representatives – now fear that a complete failure of the data services under the new army rule could soon become a reality.
“The phones don’t work today. The data speed was very poor and I kept getting disconnected. However, I am concerned that tomorrow we could lose access to all of the data networks, ”a local journalist Hsu, who was unable to reveal her full name for security reasons, told IPS.
To hold oneself back
Through Monday February 1st, NLD party activists urged their supporters to remain calm and be careful about public protests. “Don’t boil with anger, take no action,” read a viral message from Zae Aye Moe shared by hundreds of NLD supporters.
This was in contrast to Suu Kyi, who reportedly wrote a letter before she was arrested and urged her supporters to protest.
Htay Aung, an independent political activist who had contested the November election and was arrested by the NLD government for criticism, also appealed for calm.
“I am very disappointed with the development, but I will not say anything or ask anyone to say anything else,” Aung, who was accused of Suu Kyi for misusing public funds for the campaign, told IPS.
Free Express Myanmar, the country’s leading freedom of expression organization, has also decided to withhold a statement.
The organization recently published a report on the state of freedom of expression in Myanmar.
“State and military control over public discourse and the media has severely restricted the diversity of online viewpoints. Despite Facebook’s removal of several official military accounts and pages, military news on certain topics, including the Rohingya conflict and minority groups, has continued to monopolize online narrative, “the report said.
However, yesterday the organization said it has no explanation on the coup. “I’m afraid we will go unnoticed until we see the situation,” a member of the organization told IPS.
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