Coup Government’s Coercive Mechanisms Meet the Voices of Protesters
February 18, 2021
*The Tea Leaf Center is opening up our blog to provide a space and document the voices of those impacted by the recent coup in Burma/Myanmar. The opinions, analysis, and information expressed here are those of the author.*
VOICES FROM A COUP
Coup Government’s Coercive Mechanisms Meet the Voices of Protesters
By: Stephen Nyein Han Tun | Social Science Researcher
General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the government installed by the coup, said conducting a coup was “inevitable” (Sai Wanna, 2021). The coup was conducted to take power from the re-elected government of Daw Aung San Su Kyi’s National League of Democracy Party due to the state of emergency (Myanmar Now, 2021a) under the Section 417 of the 2008 Constitution, which focuses on the loss of national solidarity, sovereignty and the rise of insurgency, violence and other impacts.
Further, the Tatmadaw also said that although ten million votes in the November 2020 election were fraud, the NLD Government did not prioritize tackling this issue. The Tatmadaw thus securitized that the situation could lead to “protests and riots” (Kang Wan Chern, 2021) and then grabbed power in the country on February 1st 2021 through coercion.
The Tatmadaw coup and its mechanism generates violations and repercussions, both during and after the coup. In fact, the coup was seriously planned by the Tatmadaw regime. This short article, however, focuses on how the Tatmadaw regime installed by the coup organized a coerced mechanism since 1st February 2021.
Coercive Mechanism: State Level
During the coup, the Tatmadaw regime detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Su Kyi and President Win Myint, key leaders of NLD government bodies from different regions and states as well as well-known activists, members of the Union Election Commission and other politicians. These leaders were arrested from their houses at midnight and at dawn which was an unexpected time. These practices are also inconsistent with the rule of law in Myanmar as President Win Myint and the State Counselor were arrested and their communication was restricted by the Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing. The internet, phone line and all the television channels were shut down on February 1st and the lines then reopened later that day. Some essential roads were blocked, domestic air travel was temporarily shut down and international flights were restricted.
The State Conselor, Daw Aung San Su Kyi was charged with violating the Export and Import Law for using walkie-talkies and sued again for breaking Covid-19 restrictions on 16th February 2021. The President, U Win Myint, was charged with violating the Natural Disaster Management Law (The Irrawaddy, 2021a). One experienced politician said that “these cases are funny. All the Myanmar people use China-made products in Myanmar. Walkie-talkies are also China-made and provided by the previous government bodies. We can see that Tatmadaw leaders are unwilling to give the power to NLD government and they target the important persons in order to take down the NLD Party.” This is the coercive mechanism of Tatmadaw government as they destroy the power of Daw Aung San Su Kyi and its government’s functions in State level.
Importantly, the NLD government’s structure was wiped out and the new government’s structures were created under the name of “State Administrative Council”. The leader of coup, General Min Aung Hlaing, is the chair and General Soe Win is the vice chair. Most of the top leaders are from Tatmadaw and few members are from non-military society. Those from outside the military have good relationship with the military. After that, the coup’s government established a structure of government bodies for different states and regions. Further they also invited some top parties’ members to be involved in their government bodies including other parties and ethnic self-administration zones’ leaders. For instance, the head of People’s Pioneer Party, Daw Thet Thet Khine, is appointed as the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement by the coup’s government (The Irrawaddy, 2021a). The coup’s government chose political party members who have positive attitudes toward military government.
Coerced Mechanism: Local Level
Since the day of the coup, civilians and staff of some government departments responded to the coup through non-violent movement such as the civil disobedience movement (CDM) (Hmue Angel, 2021), hitting pans and pots campaigns (started in Yangon on 2nd February 2021) every night at about 8:00 PM, and spreading awareness on social media platforms. The medical health workers and some government departments from Northern Shan State embark on CDM since 2nd February 2021.
The public protests started in Japan and Thailand since 1st and 2nd February while the public demonstration started in Mandalay on February 4th 2021 by twenty protesters. After that the public demonstration movements are significantly rising in central areas of Myanmar such as Yangon, Nay Pi Taw, Monywa, Sagiang and other cities since 5th and 6th February 2021. The protesters from peripheral sites, including northern Shan State, started on 6th February.
The first forceful crackdown began on February 9th 2021 in Mandalay, Nay Pi Taw and Yangon with water cannons. In Mandalay, 60 civilians were detained. One female protester was shot by the police and got serious injury. Her sister, Mya Thadoe New, said that her sister situation is not changing well (Myanmar Now, 2021b) and “her (Mya Thwe Thwe Khine) brain was dead” (Myanmar Now, 2021c). Thus, many critiques say that the bullet of the police’s gun is taking her life. Then this is the first case that the coup government committed a serious crime against humanity.
On 9th February night, many Tatmadaw trucks from Nay Pi Taw moved to Yangon. Regarding this issue, many respondents said that they collect the military weapons and send important troops to the Koku island and navel camps near Yangon. Then many peoples are feeling insecurity that that they are surrounded by the soldiers at night. Further, the NLD’s headquarters in Bahan Township was raided and took many valuable things (The Irrawaddy, 2021b).
The coup’s government planned to restrict the internet services and sent new draft laws to the mobile and internet service companies on February 9th 2021. Many civil society organizations said that the draft laws violate freedom of speech, digital rights, the right to privacy, and other human rights (Frontier, 2021). Since the coup day, Min Aung Hlaing’s government has shut down the mobile service on 1st February and restricted internet services, including social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Further the internet connection was totally shut down on February 6th, almost the whole days, and several time since 16th February, from 1:00 AM to 9:00 AM.
An experienced woman informant said that “the Tatmadaw government did the same action when they did a coup in 1988. They cut out the electricity and phone line. It was a dark age for the Myanmar civilians because they did not want the people to communicate with each other for the protests. They want the citizens to listen and watch [only] Myanmar [state] television programs.”
Further, many government officers who participate in the civil disobedience movement (CDM) have been arrested at night while the military government releases prisoners and recruits Burmese gangsters, also known as Swan Ar Shan Apwae, from slum areas (Stephen Nyein Han Tun, 2021). A local informant said that some people are used for pro-military protesters and some are used as thugs at night.
Two notable situations emerged on February 12th 2021. First, the coup’s government gave amnesty and freed 23,314 prisoners in total. They released a well-known Rakhine nationalist, U Maung Maung Aye, who was imprisoned for 20 years under the NLD government. Second, the Ward or Village Tract Administration Law’ structures were also abolished by the coup’s government. These two points are interconnected and tactically planned by the coup’s government. The reason is that the community and village administrator’s law is not active on February 12th and all the appointed community leaders have not legal authority to govern their areas. Thus, much violence started since February 12th night.
All the violence is led by the police, military soldiers and the people who have strong connections with the coup government’s structure. One informant said that “many thugs were caught in Mandalay and they came to their quarters and streets with ambulance and philanthropic cars. All these cars are connected with military society.” Many people assumed that “an ambulance car and two car drivers are related with Daw Thet Thet Khine’s party.”
On the night of February 13th, a total of 42 people was detained by local people in Yangon. This included nine police officers, four Buddhist monks, three Tatmadaw officers, while the rest are gangsters and recently-released prisoners, including children and young women. The local people said that the actions of these people is abnormal and the local people suspect that they have been injected with a kind of drug. Then, they are appointed to attack the community by firing, looting and doing bad things while people are sleeping at night.
Regarding this issue, a knowledgeable protester said that “In 1988 uprising’s period, the military government also released many prisoners and these people did bad things to the society. All the prisoners were murderers, rapists and thieves. So, the civilians felt insecure and could not concentrate on protests. Now, they are using the same method on the society. They also want to disturb the civilian’s protests with this way.”
Another protester said that “the coup’s government also released many nationalists, pro-military supporters and monks who are charged by the NLD government. It can also involve Wirathu and U Hla Swe who actively against NLD government.”
A young protester said that “We are peaceful protesters and we are also students. We will never do violence. The violence will be created by the coup’s government with many ways.”
On February 13th 2021, the Tatmadaw coup government reintroduced the laws which are related with the Ward or Village Tract Administration. It said the National Administrative Council change and constitute the laws which based on article 419. Article 13 (sub-title F) was abolished on 12th February and these five laws substitute as the laws for the Ward or Village Tract Administration. These laws include five points. In brief, the new ward and village administrators need to be re-elected and the visitors/guests/outsiders need to notify at the ward or village administrative office when they stay and visit another place. If the people are not following these rules, they will be fine for seven day in prison. Many respondents said that these rules are used in military government period, but the NLD government inactivated since 2016.
Further, the coup government enacted the laws which can detain the civilians, forcefully search into the people’s houses and jail without formal warrant (The Irrawaddy, 2021d). Thus, we find that the coup government has constituted centralized laws to control and dominate the rights of peoples and private institutions.
All in all, the coup government detained the top NLD leaders and government’s bodies, activists, politicians, protest leaders, and officers from civil disobedience movement at night. The social media platforms and internet access were also restricted while proposing the digital laws. Further, the coup’s government organized violence in communities by sending police, soldiers, thugs, criminals and recently-released prisoners to create chaos. As the coup government released a warrant to arrest seven famous celebrity NLD supporters, many peaceful protesters might be targeted in the future. A young girl was shot during protests and got serious injuries and lost her life. Thus, the police, as a part of coup government, can facilitate more violence on NLD supporters and community by the facilitation of coup government’s laws.
As the coup government released pro-military leaders and supporters from prison, it seems that they can join with Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and oppose NLD supporters and innocent civilians. This is one of the biggest issues as USDP supporters have negative attitudes toward the NLD government. We can see that USDP and all of the military alliances’ parties have not made any statements or comments about the Tatmadaw coup since February 1st 2021.
On February 17th 2021, the Tatmadaw’s Ture News Agency, major general Zaw Min Tun said that the forceful crackdowns of police are legal and operate under the rule of law of the country which include the case of Mandalay on February 16th 2021. Further, the Tatmadaw government is also investigating the case of Mya Thwe Thwe Khine to the police department.
Concerning the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and the peace process, we find that the coup government will negotiate with the Northern Alliances ethnic armed groups and Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC). Before the coup, the Tatmadaw already met with the Arakan Army and Northern Alliance Members in Pansang township, Wa State.
Thus, it discovers that the Northern Alliance members can coexist and share power amongst Myanmar politics as they never condemn about the Tatmadaw coup and crackdown of NLD Government’s structures. After the coup, there is not a serious armed conflict between Northern Alliance members and Tatmadaw.
Another interesting factor is that the coup government announce that they are planning to bring the Rohingya peoples from Bangladesh to Myanmar. However, this information is not clear and accurate as the coup government (Tatmadaw) is making propaganda idea for getting the public attention in positive way.
Thus we can see that the coup government is conducting violence with a coercive mechanism in state and local levels with violent action and laws although the International community, United Nations, human rights organizations, academic and research institutions are giving critiques regarding the coup. In this research, we discover that the coup government use women and children for their violation mechanism. Then they also open gunfire to the woman protester who peaceful involve in public movement. It seems that there are no human rights, freedom of speech and multiple rights for civilians, academics, peaceful protesters, medical workers, researchers and civil servants since February 1st 2021. We thus should address the coercive actions and monitor, investigate and study the action, plans and other mechanisms of the coup government.