One year on from the coup in Myanmar, today must be a turning point

By Benedict Rogers

A year ago today, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar/Burma’s military, ordered his troops to take over government buildings, raid the offices of the governing party, arrest members of Myanmar’s democratically elected government and Parliament, shut down independent media, take control of the state media and seize power in a brutal coup d’etat. His decision turned the clock back by more than a decade, reversing ten years of fragile democratisation in which the country had seen credible elections, an independent media, the release of political prisoners, a vibrant civil society and opening up to the international community.

Of course, that decade of reform was far from perfect – not least because it included the genocide of the Rohingyas, continued conflict in ethnic states, particularly Kachin, Shan and Rakhine, and the rise of extreme religious nationalism leading to increased religious discrimination and persecution. But nevertheless, it allowed some seeds of political liberalisation to grow, and enabled the people of Myanmar to vote freely.

Twice – in 2015 and 2020 – Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming mandate to govern. After years under house arrest, prison, hiding or exile, the NLD – whose mandate from the 1990 elections was never accepted by the military – was now in government.

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Six months after the coup, what are we going to do about Myanmar’s new nightmare?

By Benedict Rogers

Exactly six months ago yesterday, Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, was plunged into yet another dark chapter in its history – perhaps one of the darkest yet.

On 1 February the army’s Commander-in-Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, seized power in a bloody coup that overthrew the democratically elected civilian government, led to the arrest of most pro-democracy leaders, and ushered in a new era of brutal repression which many of us hoped had been consigned to Myanmar’s history.

Relentless repression

In the past six months, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the junta has killed 940 civilians, arrested 6,994 and currently holds 5,444 political prisoners in jail. Among them are many of my friends – including the incredible Thin Thin Aung, Myawaddy Sayadaw and others.

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Arrests, torture, violence and oppression, and yet there is still hope for Myanmar/Burma

By Benedict Rogers

Last week, people in Myanmar/Burma marked 100 days since the military coup with yet more protests. For over three months since General Min Aung Hlaing seized power on 1 February, overthrowing the democratically-elected civilian government, people have courageously taken to the streets throughout the country. Almost 5,000 have been arrested, just under 4,000 are currently in jail, and almost 800 have been killed, yet still the demonstrations continue.

Myanmar now stands on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. The economy has collapsed, and a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) by public sector workers has led to thousands losing their homes and salaries. Many are facing extreme poverty and starvation.

For those detained by the military, torture is “almost ‘automatic’” according to survivors and eyewitnesses in evidence documented by the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO). “Systematic torture practices are used by Burmese soldiers to extract information or forced confessions from people arrested for exercising their right to peaceful protest or other anti-junta activities,” CHRO report.

According to one former detainee, “Once inside the interrogation center, we are made to kneel down, hands tied behind our backs, blindfolded and forced to lie on our belly on the ground. That’s when the interrogation and beatings begin. Depending on how quickly the soldiers obtain the information they want, detainees are caned with up to 40 lashes, some detainees are made to dig holes in the ground to make them think that they are about to be killed and they are digging their own grave.”

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“We are not safe anymore”: Burma’s coup shatters hopes for democracy, religious tolerance and human rights

By Benedict Rogers

Images of tanks and soldiers on the streets of Burma’s cities, and the sound of gunfire against peaceful protesters take us back in time almost 14 years, and reverse a decade of fragile reform and democratization in the country. From the scenes of her release from house arrest in November 2010 via her talks with Burma’s then-President Thein Sein in August 2011, and through to her subsequent election to Parliament, victory in a nationwide election and the past five years as de facto head of government, Aung San Suu Kyi is now back where she started: in detention.

The generals have remained in power throughout, but now they have abandoned any pretense and seized direct control once more.

The coup on 1 February stunned the world. Although it had been rumoured, few expected the military to really do it. It is true that the army in Burma has a history of staging coups – in 1958, 1962 and 1988 – and it isn’t keen on losing elections, as it showed in 1990 when it refused to accept Suu Kyi’s first victory, consigning her to 15 years under house arrest, and her colleagues to prison or exile. In 2008 it drafted a new constitution designed to keep Suu Kyi out of power, rammed it through in a sham referendum and two years later heavily rigged the country’s first elections in two decades. Nevertheless, since then it had appeared that the military had come to some kind of accommodation with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).

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Burma elections: This Sunday, the country needs a miracle

By Benedict Rogers

Five years ago, the overwhelming election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma heralded the dawn of a new democratic era after over fifty years of brutal military dictatorship and civil war.

After a total of 15 years under house arrest and more than a quarter of a century of courageous struggle for democracy, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate known to everyone as “The Lady” was poised to head her country’s government. And although the military had deliberately drafted a constitution that excluded her from becoming President, her advisers ingeniously created a new role that circumvented that restriction – the position of State Counsellor, de facto prime minister. With the exception of the three key ministerial roles given to the military under the constitution – home affairs, defence and border affairs – she has absolute oversight of the civilian government.

Yet five years on, it’s a very different picture. Burma approached the crossroads of democratization, peace-building and national reconciliation – and went into reverse.

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