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Give our future back

10 May 2023

By May, Asia Intern at Minority Rights Group 

I heard a knock while I was sleeping in my apartment; I thought it was too early and I wasn’t expecting any guests. I opened the door and saw my friend’s face, shocked. He said to me: ‘They arrested Aung San Su Kyi.’ I replied, laughing: ‘Is it a prank?’ He showed me a screenshot of a news article and told me it wasn’t a joke. I just looked at him, confused. He kept telling me to pack some things, that they are arresting other activists too. ‘They may also have your profile and it’s safer for you to go back to your hometown.’   

I am May and I am a citizen of Myanmar. Just over two years ago, on the night of 31 January, I had gone to bed without any worries for the future I was facing. The night before, I was joking with my friends about a coup. Even though I got some information from the international community about a coup the week before, I didn’t believe it. But then it happened.  

Photo: Bago protest, Myanmar, 2021. Credit: May/MRG.

I didn’t encounter the 88 uprisings, so I didn’t prepare for anything. I randomly packed some clothes and followed him. When I was out on the main road, Yangon was quiet, like a ghost town. No cars, no buses, just a few people walking the streets in fear. When people saw me with a bag, they suggested that I better stay home, it isn’t safe to travel anymore. I tried to call my mom, but I couldn’t reach her. I was scared and worried about what would happen to us. There was no internet or phone service. 

As I was walking to the bus station, I saw people overcrowding the grocery stores. I couldn’t get a bus and there was no taxi willing to take me home. My friend came with me the whole way to the bus station and said I could stay with his family for few days instead. 

On the 3rd of February, the labor union started the peaceful protest in Yangon, and I was able to go back home.  

My hometown, Bago, started a peaceful protest against the coup the next day. A friend from the Student Union led the protest and I was supporting behind the scenes. The civil disobedience movement got stronger; people were joining the peaceful protest in the hope of getting the democracy back.  

I still remember the chanting we shouted in hope: 

               ‘We are youth, give our future back!’                       

               ‘We are youth, we have dreams!’ 

Sorrowful days

On the 8th of February, a car rammed into the protest group and a civilian, Nyi Nyi Oo was killed in Mandalay. The next day, 19 year old Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing was shot by police and died ten days later. With each passing day, the death toll grew higher. People were arrested arbitrarily. The days were filled with sorrows, and the nights with fear that someone would knock on our door and drag us out.  

By the 9th of April, my usually peaceful hometown Bago was facing an inconceivable situation. At 4am I heard the sound of bombing in the area the protest was based in. I tried to support the protestors by offering food, clothes and pepper spray, but I couldn’t reach my friends in the protest camp. The police barricaded those areas, and no one could enter: no ambulance, no cars, no doctors. We heard gunshots and bombing non-stop from 4am until 4pm, but we couldn’t even get close enough to document what was happening.  

I reported the situation in Bago to several embassies, asking for help, but all I got back was: “we’re really sorry and hope you are safe”. I was safe, but my friends weren’t. One day saw the killing of at least 82 people. My friend, who was one of the protest leaders, had their house destroyed. The next day, I received strange phone calls – I was somehow being tracked by the junta. For my family’s safety, I left my hometown at great risk. I reached out to a friend from Thailand, who sent me an invitation letter to apply for a visa. I left the country. 

When the plane wheels took off, I felt relieved on one hand and guilty on the other.    

One day I heard that someone I worked closely with had been arrested. On another I heard that some young people had been killed. On another: the military had set fire to and destroyed an entire village, killing the villagers and children. I heard these stories repeatedly. I am numb to the feelings, though sometimes I know it would be better to cry. I see photos of people being killed and houses being destroyed without even knowing my feelings anymore. I feel hopeless and powerless to help.  

Photo: Bago protest, Myanmar, 2021. Credit: May Thiri Khin/MRG

Like me, many civilians in Myanmar are in a hopeless situation. Some had to cross the border to Thailand and India, some are stuck in villages without basic supplies. 13,088 people are currently in detention. 121 people have been sentenced in absentia. 139 people have been sentenced to death.Many have lost their jobs, and many became refugees. Yet the citizens of Myanmar haven’t received any protection from United Nations organizations and international governments. The military junta has merely been condemned.  

The coup affected everyone, but minorities face more struggles in detention and are targeted more often. In April 2021 a Muslim muezzin was found hanging in a mosque within Yangon Region – he was more likely killed by the military than by suicide. Soldiers opened fire inside the Sule Mosque in Mandalay, killing a person sleeping after fasting. Several churches were bombed by the military in Kayah region. Those who look Indian face more torture in detention and sometimes end up being killed, like Ko Lin Paing Soe, a Gurkha student killed in custody.  

Still I hope

Before the coup, I was working for minority rights in Myanmar, based in Yangon and advocating for the citizenship rights of minorities. 

Since the day of the coup, we citizens of Myanmar don’t feel safe for our lives and our future. 

Things are getting worse day by day. We hope that if we can resist it, we will get our democracy back. We protested peacefully, but the military junta can do everything to hold power. The junta doesn’t care if people live or die.  

Myanmar was not a peaceful country before the coup. Yet, we still hoped to build a better community. We worked so hard to raise awareness about religious freedoms and advocate for peaceful communities. But today, everything we had dreamed for minorities has been lost.  

The government we voted for was taken away, the democracy we longed for, for years, is gone and the whole country turned into a slaughter field.  

I hope to get democracy back. The junta took the future from the youth while our country was moving forward. I hope international governments will deny the military junta as the government of Myanmar and accept the legitimacy of the National Unity Government. I hope the National Unity Government works for the safety and equality of all citizens, including Rohingya and all minorities.  

I hope I can return to my family and spend time with them without fear of arrest.  

I hope I can see my friends and colleagues again.  

I hope that everyone in Myanmar can heal from these nightmares.  

Photo: Bago protest, Myanmar, 2021. Credit: May/MRG.

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