Students, protesters undaunted despite deaths in crackdown

Students and civilians are still gathering in the streets to reject the 1 February military coup in Myanmar despite a death toll that reached 38 on Wednesday after the military cracked down violently on peaceful protesters.

Some 90% of students and teachers from 40 universities across Myanmar have joined the civil disobedience movement and student protesters are among those who have been killed. Students and academics have been abducted after the military raided homes.

This week the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) – the elected lawmakers of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy – appointed four acting ministers including education minister Zaw Wai Soe, a former rector of the University of Medicine (1,2), who has already spoken out, urging people to join the ongoing civil disobedience movement.

CRPH released a statement on Monday 1 March describing the Myanmar military governing body, the State Administrative Council, as a “terrorist group” for its “atrocities and acts of terrorism”, in contravention of the Counter-Terrorism Law, committed against the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the country’s citizens.

The 38 deaths on 3 March made that day the bloodiest day since the coup. There have been a total of 50 deaths since 1 February, as the military security forces fired live rounds into crowds of protesters, around half of them young people and university students across Myanmar. The funerals of many were held on Thursday.

Ma Kyal Sin (19), who was a second-year student at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University, died on Wednesday after being shot in the head. She was wearing a shirt that read “Everything will be OK”, and left details of her blood group and her contact number as if she already knew she could die.

“I have known her since high school. Because a lot of our students were being killed, some university unions including ours already announced we will not only protest peacefully but also act in self-defence if they try to kill us,” a second-year student from Mandalay University of Foreign Language majoring in German told University World News. He added that the students would try their best not to confront the military security forces.

At the end of February, around 20 people were killed in often violent crackdowns. Live ammunition, teargas, flash bangs, batons, water cannons, even vehicles are being used to assault peaceful demonstrators.

Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing (23), a final year student at West Yangon University majoring in Myanmar language, was shot dead on 28 February. His last post on Facebook was: “#How_Many_Dead_Bodies_UN_Need_To_Take_Action.”

His final call was to his mother. “Mom, I was shot and I can’t make it,” his twin brother Ko Aung Htet Naing told the media. He said that military security forces did not give advance warning before shooting or give protesters time to disperse.

Protesters in the Mandalay Region, Magway and Mawlamyine Township were attacked and many were killed. Maung Aung Myint Myat (19), a second-year student at Technological University, Magway, was shot dead. Maung Htet Wai Htoo, a third-year geology student at Mawlamyine University, was also shot and killed.

“They are at the age when a student should be studying, but many students, teachers and young people are being killed by this military junta and nobody can help us,” a lecturer from Mawlamyine University said. With many lives sacrificed for the country, people must fight till the end, she added.

“Around 30 university students and youths have been killed since the coup. We want the international community to help but we were not satisfied with their condemnation [of the coup],” a second-year student from Mandalay University told University World News.

CRPH-appointed education minister

The CRPH this week announced the appointment of education minister Dr Zaw Wai Soe, a former rector of the University of Medicine (1,2), Yangon.

The previous minister of education, U Myo Thein Gyi, was detained after the coup, before the parliamentary session was to begin. Parliament has not re-convened and all members of parliament are in hiding, including Zaw Wai Soe.

The military’s ruling State Administrative Council appointed Nyunt Pe, a former university rector, as education minister last month, but teachers who are part of the civil disobedience movement have said they do not recognise his appointment as education minister.

Zaw Wai Soe becomes the CRPH acting minister for three ministries: labour, immigration and population; education; and health and sports. On 8 February he was already urging civilians to join the civil disobedience movement (CDM), saying the more inclusive the civil disobedience movement is, the more effective it will be.

“For the future, for the rest of my life, we have the courage to sacrifice [ourselves] for the sake of the next generation and for the sake of the future of Myanmar,” he said.

Nyunt Pe, appointed education minister by the military council, has pressured teachers not to take part in civil disobedience, but many teachers and lecturers say they do not recognise his legitimacy and would not ‘take instruction’ from him, an indication that edicts from his ministry will be defied.

“Now that Dr Zaw Wai Soe has been officially appointed by the CRPH, he needs to speak out, protect the teachers taking part in CDM, and stand up for the students,” Aung Pyae Sone Phyo, vice president of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, told University World News.

Zaw Wai Soe has already begun to speak out, issuing a public letter on Wednesday. It begins with humour: “I became the minister knowing I will be imprisoned this week,” he wrote. But the role is more about “the requirements for victory in the 2021 uprising, rather than being a minister”.

He said the CRPH was “a legislative body in accordance with the law”. The acting government was formed to put pressure on the military dictator via international governments, the letter said.

Zaw Wai Soe also urged civil servants to join CDM by midnight on Sunday 7 March or be declared by the “people’s government” to be neglecting the public interest.

More than 900 CDM members from the department of labour, immigration and population announced in a statement that they were ready to serve and follow the instructions of Zaw Wai Soe. Some 90% of students and teachers from 40 universities across Myanmar have already joined CDM.

Abductions and arrests

Civil servants, including teachers and lecturers, participating in CDM have been threatened with violent detentions as the situation deteriorated following the second week after the coup. Video evidence shows military forces violently beating and arresting people and shooting randomly into people’s houses.

Arkar Moe Thu, head of the oriental studies department at the University of Yangon and chairman of the Yangon University Teachers’ Union, was abducted by two gunmen wearing civilian clothes, while teachers from various universities started to march near Yangon University’s Hlaing Campus on Tuesday. A police vehicle later arrived and the teachers’ protest was violently broken up.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said the civil disobedience movement is disrupting the coup council’s ability to govern, hence the junta regime is raiding houses and violently detaining people without warrants, and filing “distorted legal lawsuits” against people participating in and supporting civil disobedience.

“The military junta was using the strategy against the peaceful protesters of curbing information, abducting civilians and killing,” said a university teacher of English at Mawlamyine.

She told University World News that her brother was abducted by soldiers when he was at a coffee shop on Wednesday evening in Mawlamyine. “We’ve lost our human rights because we can’t even get to see him. The military is using the law as it desires. They are committing crimes against humanity,” she said.

“I just want to know his whereabouts and take legal action to get him back. We are so lost, we don’t even know whom to ask for help anymore,” she said despairingly.

Like her brother, a total of 1,507 people, including state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and president U Win Myint, have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to AAPP. Family members do not know where all the arrested people are being held.