Violence in Myanmar Escalates as Military holds onto Power

Democracy Examined

Since our February 18th newsletter, military forces have increasingly cracked down on protesters. The arrest toll has reached 1,900 while the rising death toll (more than 60) now includes two members of the deposed leader’s party, at least one of whom was “tortured to death in his cell.” Social media posts document egregious acts of violence involving tear gas, grenades, rubber bullets, and evening patrols accompanied by “heavy weapon fire.

This past weekend, to consolidate control, police occupied schools and hospitals, clearing campuses by force. Targeting ambulances, military personnel are arresting wounded individuals under the assumption that they have taken part in the protests. Deposed leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi has been tried twice without any legal assistance.

1. How have the people of Myanmar responded to this violence?

Myanmar’s citizens have collectively taken on an activist approach, participating in widespread strikes that have brought the country’s economy and government to a standstill.
Women have been at the forefront of this civil disobedience movement, with hundreds of thousands participating in the protests. Unions dominated by female members, such as those in the education, medical, and textile industries, have led the strikes. And female martyrs like Ma Kyal Sin, an 18 year-old woman who was shot dead by agents of the military on March 3rd, have inspired protesters to march on. Kyal Sin was one of at least 38 protesters shot by the regime on the bloodiest day of demonstrations so far.

2. Why should we care?

Myanmar’s story is important even in America. Every democratic institution in our global community is interconnected, and a win for autocracy abroad is a loss for democracy at home. Democracy is like a muscle—it must be flexed and trained constantly to maintain its strength and vigor. As authoritarians continue to gain power throughout the world, the bravery of the people of Myanmar shows us how everyday citizens are willing to sacrifice their lives just for a chance at a democracy.