Myanmar democracy movement not discouraged despite condemnation of ousted leader Suu Kyi

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The Burmese military junta on Monday sentenced elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison – later reduced to two – but that shows no sign of slowing down all kinds of resistance against the military regime.

Suu Kyi has traditionally been seen as a unique symbol of opposition to the military in the Southeast Asian country, and the junta hoped the people’s leader’s jail would overturn his political party, the National League for Democracy. (NLD) and the silent anti-military. feeling.

But just hours after the 76-year-old Nobel laureate was sentenced on December 6, protesters took to the streets of the capital Yangon and across the country, waving banners and shouting slogans denouncing the military regime.

Many raised three fingers in the air in a pro-democracy salute – the image of a movement that has grown from a single leader to nationwide resistance. “The protest is not about Aung SanSuu Kyi’s arrest or prison,” Kyaw Win, executive director of the Burma Human Rights Network, told AXADLETM. “It’s for the people. Every day people give their lives for their country and for change.

This is in large part due to the younger generations who grew up in a period of relative democracy. While older people in Myanmar experienced a culture of fear under military rule, “young people were just used to expressing their opinions on social media,” Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, told AXADLETM. “They are used to more freedom of expression. They had a future ahead of them, and the military took it all. “

It’s still the younger generations who share stories of resistance online and lead flash-mob style street protests – but older Burmese residents are handing out face covers to protesters even though they are banned by the military .

Through the generations, resistance becomes a daily habit, whether it’s hitting pots and pans every night; refuse the service of military personnel in stores; or deny military profits by not buying Burmese beer, abandoning the Mytel telephone network, leaving electricity bills unpaid, or not playing the lottery – an extremely popular national pastime. “In 100 little ways people are protesting every day,” Farmaner said. “No one is waiting for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released.”

Protesters risk extreme violence

The repercussions of resistance can be serious. Kyaw Win’s organization frequently receives reports of entire families being arrested and tortured, or massive shootings in villages. “The military has no limits and they are killing using the same patterns as in the 2017 Rohingya genocide,” he said. “We are witnessing systemic crimes against humanity.”

Extreme violence can be the result of something as small as criticizing the military on Facebook. “Police and soldiers arrested people and checked their cell phones,” Farmaner said. “Then we saw the widespread torture of people arrested, the sexual assault of female detainees or the complete disappearance of people. “

Ten months after the junta’s February 1 coup, local militant group Assistance Action for Political Prisoners reports that more than 1,300 people have been killed by junta forces.

In this context, hundreds of people also entered rebel-held areas to join the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), a loose organization of armed groups providing combat training and directing attacks against military targets in all the countries. PDF fighters have been credited with making homemade bombs, organizing military ambushes to gain access to weapons, attacking targets such as telecommunications companies, and assassinating figures such as former Mytel executive Thein Aung.

Some estimates put the total number of PDF fighters at around 8,000. Official army figures say there were 986 “terrorist attacks”, 2,344 bombings and 312 arson attacks in Myanmar from February to February. end of October.

This in itself is a radical departure from Suu Kyi’s instruction against violence and protest, in favor of respect for the rule of law. Farmaner said this shows that although Suu Kyi is still widely admired, “she is not the same icon of democracy that she had been for previous generations, and the young are not just going to follow what she is. said. They’re getting organized.

A new type of resistance

In recent weeks, many of Suu Kyi’s former colleagues have been sentenced to their own prison terms, including 75 years for a former chief minister and 20 years for one of Suu Kyi’s collaborators accused of treason. Other former members of the NLD were instrumental in creating a shadow government, the Myanmar National Unity Government (NUG). While it lacks administrative powers, a key role for NUG is to raise international awareness and prevent the military from becoming the legitimate channel for international relations by default, which it has done. with some success; however, the UN on Monday indefinitely postponed recognizing the junta army or accepting its suggested ambassador.

NUG has also taken steps to distance itself from some of Suu Kyi’s more authoritarian policies if it were to ever rule the country. He issued a statement that the Rohingya should be recognized as a legitimate Myanmar ethnic group and filed a statement accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) over all international crimes in Myanmar since 2002. In a country often divided into ethnic and racial, NUG has also gone to great lengths to appoint people from various ethnic groups to its ministries.

But for now, the resistance rests in the hands of the people, which could be one of their greatest strengths. Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest has not slowed the momentum as the junta might have hoped, nor has the arrest of around 8,000 political prisoners since the start of the coup. . Farmaner said that “things don’t depend on one leader anymore, and they can’t stop enough people because it’s not the same kind of resistance it used to be.”

It turns out to be impossible to lock in an idea that has caught on and Kyaw Win, like many others, has hopes for a better future. “I am very encouraged to see that the young people who are on the ground are like brothers and sisters. Regardless of race and religion, we stand together, and that’s a very encouraging thing. To see them lead one day is my hope for the future.

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