Guest Column

Even Worse Than Expected, Myanmar Coup also a Failure for Junta

By Bo Kyi 1 February 2022

In a country that has experienced a series of military coups and more than five decades of harsh dictatorial rule, the coup on this day one year ago was bad news enough. The unsuccessful coup attempt has been even worse than first thought. Min Aung Hlaing’s greed and brutality is impoverishing entire generations.
Some 1,499 people, including students, doctors and people from many other walks of life, and women and children, have sacrificed their lives, and 11,801 have been detained, often in secret detention centers, where many are subject to physical and mental torture, sometimes to death. My organization, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), has been monitoring detentions, torture and prison conditions under Myanmar’s military since 2000.

The AAPP is an organization of former political prisoners I cofounded after being imprisoned for over seven years and subjected to degrading and inhumane torture. I know Gen Z are suffering even worse. The youth generation have seen the prospects of a better future. They believe Min Aung Hlaing is destroying their dreams and so they will never subject themselves to his rule at any cost. But the military junta is intent on inflicting as much pain and anguish as possible.

In the hell-like Mandalay Palace interrogation center, reports emerged in late December that three ABSFU student leaders, Myat Thu, Soe Thura Kyaw and Thurein Moe, were sexually assaulted by having bamboo sticks thrust into their anal cavity. The medicine prescribed to them by doctors shows that the torture victims suffered injuries consistent with having objects thrust into their rectums.

We know the military engages in torture with impunity every single day, but the harshest treatment is reserved for the junta’s political enemies and marginalized individuals.

In September last year, an LGBT woman was detained in Mandalay Palace interrogation center. Her interrogators sexually harassed her, twisted her nails with pliers, and punched her in the stomach, before sending her to a prison cell overcrowded with criminals. Some detainees have faced miserable deaths. Since the coup, 61 civilians have been tortured to death during interrogation on the day of their arrest or the day after.

The military junta is resorting to such brutal methods because people have not reacted to the harsh dictatorship in the way the generals expected. When 165 elected members of parliament (MPs), government officials and prominent activists were rounded up and detained under house arrest or in secret interrogation centers in the early hours of Feb. 1, 2021, the coup leaders hoped the action would deter popular resistance.

When 153 Union Election Commission members were detained to justify the junta’s power grab on grounds of electoral fraud in the general election of November 2020—which was deemed fair and credible by local and international poll monitors—the coup leaders expected out of ignorance that the UN General Assembly, the international community and regional blocs like ASEAN would be easily accept their justification.

Instead, a civil disobedience movement swept the country, with millions of civil service “CDMers” and protesters orchestrating a popular defiance movement that has crippled the military takeover and exposed the military institutions’ ineptitude. The ethnically diverse National Unity Government stood up as the popular body for the people of Myanmar and quickly attracted international attention. The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) comprising the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), political parties, General Strike forces, student and labor unions, CSOs, and state-based and nationalities-based consultative councils, is leading the policy-making way. It has been endorsed by the National Unity Government and has already developed a federal democracy charter.

Democratic resistance was bolstered by a series of defeats for the illegitimate military junta. In September 2021, anti-coup CDMer Kyaw Moe Tun was named permanent representative for Myanmar at the UN General Assembly. Then on Oct. 16, ASEAN rejected the military junta from its summit.

I really appreciate ASEAN’s decision to reject the Min Aung Hlaing-led junta, which failed to comply with ASEAN’s 5 Point Consensus. Large-scale atrocities continued throughout Myanmar.

Following the April 24 ASEAN leaders’ summit, the military institution simply changed tactics, engaging in activities like hostage taking. Since the coup, 304 family members of activists have been detained as hostages by the junta, and 252 remain in secret detention centers or prisons.

Meanwhile, more and more innocent civilians are tied up and killed by being burned alive. The Christmas Eve massacre of at least 35 people in Hpruso Township caught the eye of the international community for its savagery. But since the coup, the AAPP has documented the cases of a total of 55 people being detained by the security forces of the junta, then killed and/or burned to ash. As long as the military is in power, such atrocities and terror will continue to reign.

The campaign of terror being waged across the entire country created a humanitarian crisis, with massive human rights violations that impacted the entire region. The COVID-19 pandemic and waves of refugees will not be confined by state borders. Civil war, economic meltdown, pandemic and the total collapse of the state have moved more and more people into the resistance movement, struggling all by themselves to overcome the fear of cruelty and brutality committed by the junta.

And yet, last week the NUCC-led First People’s Assembly was presented to the public, and I believe this is a Myanmar-led process working towards the federal democracy that our people fully deserve. But international support in the form of targeted sanctions, arms embargos, NUG recognition and accountability is also needed to stop and remove Min Aung Hlaing and other coup leaders from Myanmar’s political stage for all time.

Former political prisoner Bo Kyi is cofounder and joint secretary of the AAPP. Bo Kyi was first arrested in 1989 for his political activism and spent most of the next decade in prison. Escaping to Thailand after his release, he called for the release of all political prisoners. Since 2013, the AAPP has been active throughout Myanmar.

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