Six months of pain and protests

Small groups of students protested against Myanmar’s military junta in Mandalay and a human rights group accused the armed forces of crimes against humanity ahead of the six-month anniversary of the army’s takeover.

Bands of university students rode motorbikes around Mandalay waving red and green flags, saying they rejected any possibility of talks with the military to negotiate a return to civilian rule.

“There’s no negotiating in a blood feud,” read one sign.

Myanmar’s army seized power on Feb 1 from the civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi after her ruling party won elections that the military argued were tainted by fraud.

New York-based Human Rights Watch yesterday said the armed forces’ violent suppression of protests against the coup and arrests of opponents included torture, murder and other acts that violate international humanitarian conventions.

“These attacks on the population amount to crimes against humanity for which those responsible should be brought to account,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, civil servants are also continuing speaking out against the junta in their own way.

Doctors healing patients from hiding, teachers giving up their classrooms and bankers losing their savings are among the stubborn holdouts still on strike to protest Myanmar’s military coup six months ago.

Thousands of civil servants joined a mass walkout in the days after the February ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in an effort to deny the junta legitimacy, manpower and resources.

It is difficult to know how many are still participating in the campaign, with many sacked for joining protests and a severe coronavirus outbreak likely keeping others away from their desks.

The strikes have left the junta deprived of staff to manage utilities, issue bills and collect taxes.

It has appealed for medical workers, engineers and IT specialists to come forward to help its coronavirus response team – and dangled the promise of vaccines for those who do.

A state-backed power company in the commercial capital Yangon warned customers this month that a running boycott on bill payments was bleeding it of cash and affecting electricity supply.

Shwe Ya Min worked for Myanmar’s central bank for 17 years but she and her husband both went on strike soon after the coup, joining colleagues in a walkout that paralysed the banking system.

Businesses have since struggled to pay employees and buy supplies, the World Bank said this week in a report forecasting the country’s economy would contract by 18% in 2021.

Shwe and her husband were both fired in May for not coming back to work, a dismissal she said was a “relief” – even though it came with a demand they return their back pay.

“We loathe (the junta) very much,” she says. “They are wicked.”

She and her family are not paying any government bills and have stopped sending their daughter to school in the commercial capital Yangon, but money is tight.

“We have been eating with what we saved, which will last only until next month,” she says.

Some of her colleagues “are selling eggs and betel nut to pay the rent”, she adds.

But she says she has no regrets about the decision.

“I choose to die from starvation instead of going back to work.”

The spokesman for the military authorities, Zaw Min Tun, could not be reached to respond to Human Rights Watch allegations because his mobile phone was turned off.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says at least 6,990 people have been arrested since the coup. The group says the armed forces have killed 939 people, a number the military says is exaggerated.

The army has branded its opponents terrorists and says its takeover was in line with the constitution.

The military took power in February after alleging fraud in the November 2020 election, which Suu Kyi’s party swept. The former electoral commission had dismissed the military’s accusations. — Agencies

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