by Hnoung Eain Thin and Amber FrenchMay 23, 2022
"ရှင်သန်ခြင်းနှင့်ခံနိုင်ရည်ရှိခြင်း"(မြန်မာ့ဒီမိုကရေစီရေးလှုပ်ရှားမှုတပ်ဦး)ဆောင်းပါအားမြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့်ဤနေရာတွေဖတ်ရှုနိုင်ပါပြီ။ (Click here for Burmese version).
Editor's note: The following is a personal narrative shared with ICNC by a pro-democracy organizer who fled Myanmar following the brutal crackdown of anti-coup protests in February 2021. His account comes from the frontlines of the country’s decades-long struggle for democracy, which has been punctuated by civil war and brutal repression at the hands of the Tatmadaw.
Considered a major breakthrough for ending 50 years of military rule, the 2015 election saw National League for Democracy candidate Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power. Upon her re-election in 2020, the Tatmadaw mounted a coup, which triggered hundreds of thousands of protesters to rise up in defense of democracy. Our contact shares his personal experience with repression but also a message of resilience and solidarity that hopefully resonates with activists living under harsh dictatorships worldwide.
While studying at Taungoo University of Technology in Myanmar, I founded the Arts Association and began publishing in 2015 a monthly newsletter offering knowledge and spreading awareness of peace, human rights and student affairs. I joined the Student Union of the Taungoo University leading activities in an effort to develop democracy and human rights in Myanmar. To advance rural education and support the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led government, I was one of the driving forces for establishing libraries across rural areas, donating books and upkeeping schools where necessary.
Together with the members of the Student Union, we raised money for flood victims and people displaced by violent outbreaks between ethnic groups and the military. We also organized several commemorations of the brutally repressed 1988 uprising (mass student-led protests against the dictatorship) and July 7th uprising (which took place at Rangoon University in 1962).
After graduating, I chose my career as part-time lecturer at the private schools around Taungoo District, meanwhile writing poems and articles highlighting democracy and human rights. Although I did an engineering degree, my true passion is art. What does it mean to be an artist? To me, it means embracing nonviolent discipline and the philosophy of nonviolence in revolution.
The February 1, 2021 military coup underscored the multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe in Myanmar. Together with three other Student Union leaders, a decision was immediately made to organize motorcycle ride protests across Taungoo. I led the troop of riders in protest as we held up the three-finger salute of resistance and shouted slogans.
In the days that followed the coup, the motorcycle protest transformed into a march and acts of civil disobedience. Hundreds of thousands of people had joined the movement from all sorts of professions like education, the health sector, banking and universities. Self-designed pamphlets were distributed to coordinate a night-time pots-and-pans-banging protest against the coup.
A few weeks after the coup, we created a Steering Committee for protests with different leaders representing a variety of professional backgrounds. We held committee meetings every night to reach a consensus on the details of the next nonviolent action (gathering place and time as well as route, if for a march). We also formed volunteer medical teams to assist protesters in case of a brutal crackdown.
On March 8 last year, a large anti-coup protest we organized at No. (1) Taungoo Street and No. (6) Taungoo Street was brutally repressed by the military and police using tear gas and ammunition. Hundreds of protesters including myself had to cross a nearby river and hide in a forest until the military troops left. Amid this crisis, I had to hide in different places to stay the night. In my absence, close friends told me that my house was raided five times by military and police and was under surveillance for quite some time.
When one of my fellow activists was arrested following the March protest, interrogators asked him if he had recently communicated with me. They showed him my photo and mentioned my name as the leader of the anti-coup protest. The interrogators also labeled me as the main supporter and propagandist of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a democratic parliament in exile that opposes the junta.
Moreover, I was told that anti-coup activists were even tortured if my name or pen name was found on their phone contact list. When the military raided the hotel LaMin Aine, where we hid for some time, we had to hide in the penthouse pool for about one hour keeping our heads under the water as much as possible. Shortly after the hotel was raided, many of my fellow activists were arrested. I was lucky enough to escape, though I am still on the wanted list issued for Taungoo anti-coup protests.
Having fled the region by foot, hidden in a forest, and then crossed the border area with the help of a distant friend, my wife and I are currently under strict surveillance by Thai authorities. We have no legal status and are deeply concerned about the possibility of being arrested and sent back to the military in Myanmar.
What have I learned over the course of these events? I’ve learned that staying alive is the ultimate form of resilience in face of brutal repression. Staying immortal when the enemy wants you to die is a victory in itself. I wish to urge pro-democracy activists worldwide to take extreme safety precautions to stay out of the hands of interrogators and jail cells.
While many Burmese believe in violent revolution (such as those who form the People’s Defense Force to overthrow the junta), I will continue to fight a nonviolent struggle. I have no connection to armed groups. I value peace and human rights.
What are my next steps? I will continue to do all that I can to help the oppressed people of Myanmar to achieve full democracy and human rights. I wish to investigate and expose the persecution that is happening at the hands of the junta, in hopes that I might aid in a future restorative justice process. I will not stop until Myanmar has fully embraced democracy and human rights.
Hnoung Eain Thin (pen name) led the 2021 anti-coup protests in Taungoo District, Bago Division of Myanmar, for which he is currently on the Tatmadaw’s wanted list. Formerly a student leader and then a teacher, he is now an artist, a poet and a musician living in exile after the Tatmadaw’s brutal crackdown of the anti-coup protests. Democracy and human rights are central to his artistic work.Read More
Amber French is Managing Editor of Minds of the Movement and Editorial Advisor at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. She is currently based in Paris, France, where she teaches classes on nonviolence, politics, and diplomacy at two universities and serves on the editorial board of Alternatives non-violentes. Amber is also a French to English translator and frequent contributor to Minds of the Movement and a number of French journals.Read More