Descent into Darkness

Six months after Myanmar’s military coup, citizens are fighting for their freedom and health against the regime that seized power and halted a decade of democratization.



Six months after Myanmar’s military toppled the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, rejecting without proof her party’s landslide November 2020 re-election victory as fraudulent, the country of 54 million has slid back into the darkness that the 76-year-old leader’s fledgling, flawed democracy was trying to help it escape.

The State Administrative Council, the junta established by the Feb. 1 coup d’état leader Min Aung Hlaing, has been met with widespread public rejection and has responded with lethal military force to crush street protests, and mass arrests to quell walkouts by white collar professionals. More than 900 civilians have been killed and more than 5,400 are in detention.

Myanmar’s coup crippled an already outmatched government fight against the coronavirus, just as a vicious third wave of the pandemic hit a country racked with conflict, short of food, and scattered with hundreds of thousands of refugees.

With its neglect of COVID-19, its repression of the media, and its economic mismanagement, critics liken the State Administrative Council to the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the junta’s name from 1988 to 1997, a notoriously harsh period in the army’s fifty-year rule that ended in 2011, when the military went partially back to the barracks for a decade.


Malign neglect of COVID-19

Yangon residents wait to fill up empty oxygen canisters outside a factory on July 14, 2021, as the number of COVID-19 cases surges. (AFP)

Myanmar’s struggle with a third wave of COVID-19 infections is hamstrung by hospitals that turn away all but the most seriously ill, forcing many patients to treat themselves at home amid a critical shortage of medical supplies, including oxygen. The pandemic had claimed more than 8,500 lives as of July 30.

Critics say the junta is accused of making matters worse by denying entry to patients at army-run public hospitals, arresting doctors and health care workers who had protested against the regime, obstructing civil society volunteer aid workers, and restricting sales of oxygen.


Freedom of information deteriorates

A newspaper reports "1 year of State of Emergency and Acting President transferred Power to Military Chief” on its front page, in Yangon on Feb. 2, 2021. (Associated Press)

The military coup was followed swiftly by junta efforts to block Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and close all independent news outlets, while journalists faced harassment, threats, arrest and torture in jail.

Many have fled the country and cover the story from Thailand, India or further away.

Between 90 and 98 journalists have been arrested, with at least 45 still in detention. Most face charges under article 505(a) of the criminal code, which punishes spreading “fake news” with three years in prison.


Double-digit GDP contraction

People queue up to use the ATM at a bank in Yangon on April 7, 2021, amid strained operations due to ongoing demonstrations against the coup. (AFP)

Post-coup conflict, protest walkouts, and business closures have disrupted critical services, including transportation, telecommunications, and public health and education -- setting the stage for worse economic hardship and threatening to wipe out progress the country had made over the past decade.

The World Bank latest analysis expects the country’s $75 billion GDP to contract by about 18 percent in the Oct. 2020-Sept. 2021 fiscal year, leaving the economy about 30 percent smaller than it would have been without the COVID-19 pandemic and the military coup and doubling the pre-coup ranks of the poor.


Toll on students, youth

Students wait to enter school for the first time since in the coup in Sittwe on June 1, 2021. (AFP)

The Myanmar military’s previous rule was noted for neglect of health and education spending, leaving the country ranking down near the bottom in surveys of educational attainment by UN agencies.

The junta says that more than 88 percent of schools had been reopened at the start of the school year in June this year, with about 4.7 million students enrolled.

But civil society groups say only about 20 percent of students have returned for studies, compared to the 9 million students who were enrolled in 2019-20 academic year.


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Myanmar Coup by the Numbers

Since February 1, 2021


29

Days

as of September 24, 2021

1,123

Number of Deaths

8,401

Arrested

Video







Cartoons


Who’s Who in Myanmar’s Coup

Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, has been Myanmar’s civilian leader since March 2016 after her National League for Democracy (NLD) won 2015 elections by a landslide. Prohibited by a military-drafted constitution from becoming president because her two sons are foreign nationals, she was installed in the custom-made position of state counselor.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burmese independence hero Aung San, and was two years old when he was assassinated. After decades living abroad, she was thrust into politics when her return home coincided with a pro-democracy uprising in 1988. She subsequently led the NLD to a landslide win in 1990 elections, only to have the military nullify the results and put her under house arrest for 15 years between 1989 and 2010.

After becoming state counselor in 2016, lawmakers from her party proposed democratic changes to the 2008 constitution, written by a former military government, but were met with resistance by military MPs who control a quarter of the seat of parliament and can veto constitutional changes that threaten their political power.

Once considered a “democracy icon” by the international community, Aung San Suu Kyi earned scorn and condemnation for her refusal to denounce a violent military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017. Though the campaign of terror left thousands dead and forced more than 740,000 others to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh, she defended the military’s actions as a necessary counterinsurgency against Muslim militants who carried out deadly attacks on police outposts.

European organizations revoked Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom awards, while the U.S. Holocaust Museum rescinded a prestigious human rights award. There were even calls to cancel the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991. But Aung San Suu Kyi remains hugely popular inside Myanmar, and was key to her party securing another landslide victory in November 2020 elections. On Feb. 1, she and others in her political circle, including President Win Myint, arrested by the military as it launched a coup.

Myint Swe, 69, is a former general who served for the past five years as first vice president after his nomination by military bloc in parliament. He was installed Feb. 1 as acting president after top figures in the NLD-led government – including President Win Myint -- were arrested and military seized power in the coup.

Giving a semblance of constitutionality to the military takeover, Myint Swe then formally transferred power to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, so the army chief has control over all branches of government for one year.

Myint Swe is an ethnic Mon ex-army lieutenant general who also served as acting president after the resignation of former president Htin Kyaw in March 2018. Before that, he served as chief minister of Yangon region from March 2011 to March 2016.

Like Min Aung Hlaing, Myint Swe is a graduate of the Defense Services Academy and rose through the ranks of the army. As a brigadier general, he commanded a light infantry division in 1997. He served as commander of Myanmar’s Southeastern Command and also as a member of the of Myanmar’s former military junta.

He subsequently became commander of the Yangon Command and was promoted to major general. In that position, he had family members of former dictator Ne Win arrested in 2002 after an alleged coup conspiracy was uncovered, then oversaw a 2004 purge of the military intelligence faction of former prime minister Gen. Khin Nyunt, and put down the pro-democracy Saffron Revolution in 2007.

Myint Swe went on to serve as chief of military security affairs in 2004 and became chief of the Bureau of Special Operations–5 in 2006. He was criticized for his actions after Cyclone Nargis, a deadly tropical cyclone that hit Myanmar in May 2008 and was the worst natural disaster in the country on record. Myanmar’s military leaders came under heavy fire for initially resisting large-scale international aid to deal with the catastrophe.

Myint Swe is also known for his harsh handling of activists in the run-up to the flawed 2010 general elections, in which an NLD boycott resulted in a sweeping victory for the pro-military USDP party.

Min Aung Hlaing, 64, rose steadily through the ranks of the country’s powerful armed forces to become the commander-in-chief in 2011, just as Myanmar began its democratic transition after decades of harsh military rule and international isolation.

He studied law at Yangon University in 1972-1974 before entering the Defense Services Academy, a training ground for future officers for all three branches of Myanmar military, and rose steadily through the ranks.

When Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2016, the reserved senior general became more involved in politics under the civilian-led government, posting photos, statements, and his meetings with foreign dignitaries on Facebook. He gained hundreds of thousands of followers until his social media account was removed following the army’s brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in 2017.

Despite the state counselor’s defense of the military over the genocide allegations, tensions between Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing have only intensified in the past two years and came to a head after the government-appointed election commission rejected military claims of massive vote fraud in November 2020 elections that saw the military’s proxy party slump to a humiliating defeat.

In the days before the military’s power-grab, Min Aung Hlaing had issued veiled threats of a coup, but he still caught the country and the international community by surprise on Feb. 1 when a new parliament was due to convene. With his coup, he upended a decade of democratic reform and deepened the pariah status of the armed forces he commands.

Win Myint, 69, became president in March 2018, a week after the resignation of his predecessor Htin Kyaw over health concerns, and he held the position until his forced removal from office in the Feb. 1 military coup.

Before parliament elected him as president, Win Myint has served as speaker in the lower house since 2012. He was appointed a vice president prior to his elevation in a sign that he had been tipped for the presidency.

The close aide and loyalist of Aung San Suu Kyi studied geology in Yangon and later became a High Court senior attorney in 1981 and a lawyer of Myanmar’s Supreme Court. Four years later he became a High Court advocate.

He was part of a democracy uprising in 1988 and was briefly jailed by the military junta. After he was freed from prison, Win Myint won a parliamentary seat in Ayeyarwady region’s Danubyu township in the 1990 elections — the first multiparty elections since 1960. The elections were swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD, but the military junta refused to recognize the results and effectively ruled until 2011.

As the country began democratic reforms, Win Myint a lower house seat representing Ayeyarwady region’s Pathein constituency in 2012 by-elections and later became secretary of parliament’s rule of law committee. He was elected as a lower house lawmaker representing Yangon’s Tamwe township in general elections in 2015. A year later, he became speaker of the lower house, a position he held until 2018.

Timeline of Events
Relevant to Myanmar Feb 1st, 2020 Coup


  • July 26, 2021

    Myanmar’s junta annuls the results of the country’s 2020 election, which saw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy win in a landslide, drawing condemnation from political parties who say they will not honor the decision.

  • JULY 20, 2021

    Nyan Win, the spokesman for the NLD, dies after contracting COVID-19 in prison, prompting condemnation of the military for incarcerating him during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

  • JULY 19, 2021

    Aung San Suu Kyi is excluded by the military junta from annual Martyrs’ Day observances Monday honoring her father, Gen. Aung San, who led Myanmar to independence from British rule, while opponents of army rule stage protests in several cities.

  • JULY 7, 2021

    Hundreds of young people rally in cities across Myanmar on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of a 1962 student uprising against a military coup, calling on citizens to continue the decades-long struggle against the army.

  • JULY 2, 2021

    The U.S. Department of Treasury blocks the assets of 22 individuals connected to the regime, including three members of the junta, and vows to impose additional sanctions unless the junta agrees to step down from power.

  • JUNE 30, 2021

    The junta releases some 2,300 detainees—mostly political prisoners charged with defamation—as part of a nationwide amnesty, but the move is dismissed as a stunt to gain international recognition following its February power grab.

  • JUNE 18, 2021

    The U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution calling on Myanmar’s military to restore democratic rule and urging member states to “prevent the flow of arms” to the country.

  • JUNE 14, 2021

    Aung San Suu Kyi and president Win Myint go on trial in the capital Naypyidaw, with rights groups calling the charges against the pair “bogus” and politically motivated.

  • JUNE 4, 2021

    The shadow civilian National Unity Government (NUG) comprised of Myanmar’s ousted elected leadership pledges to amend the constitution to grant citizenship to ethnic Rohingya, Muslim ethnic group that was the target of a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine state in 2017, if it regains power from the military.

  • JUNE 2, 2021

    Two reporters working for independent media outlets in Myanmar are jailed for two years for reporting on the demonstrations against the takeover by the military junta.

  • MAY 24, 2021

    Aung San Suu Kyi appears in court for the first time since the military took control of the country Feb. 1, saying she had been cut off from contact from the outside world and didn’t know what had happened in the past several months.

  • MAY 17, 2021

    The U.S., Britain and Canada imposes asset freezes and other sanctions on the junta and 13 military regime figures, specifically citing the “violence and repression” against civilians in Chin state.

  • MAY 9, 2021

    The corpse of poet Khet Thi, also known as Zaw Tun and known for writing verse supporting the resistance movement, is returned to his family the morning after his arrest, badly discolored and with stitching that indicated that organs including his had been removed.

  • MAY 5, 2021

    The shadow National Unity Government forms the “People’s Defense Force,” an armed militia aimed at opposing the military and preventing killings and other violent acts against the people by the regime.

  • APRIL 29, 2021

    Two Myanmar air force bases in the cities of Meiktila and Magway are hit by rocket attacks, with unconfirmed social media reports saying as many as six government soldiers were killed.

  • APRIL 24, 2021

    Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders call for an “immediate cessation” to killings in Myanmar and the opening of ASEAN-brokered talks between its military regime and parallel civilian government, in an emergency summit in Jakarta.

  • APRIL 16, 2021

    Civilian politicians, ethnic group leaders, and activists launch a “National Unity Government,” centered Aung San Suu Kyi and other lawmakers elected last November, to marshal domestic and international support for ending the bloody rule of the military junta.

  • APRIL 8, 2021

    Military authorities arrest Paing Takhon, a film actor and popular male model, the most famous of scores of celebrities to be targeted for protests against the military dictatorship.

  • April 2, 2021

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the junta has "forcibly disappeared hundreds of people" -- politicians, journalists, activists, and protesters since the coup.

  • April 1, 2021

    The Ministry of Transport and Communications suspends all wireless broadband data services, in a move activists say is aimed at staunching the flow of videos and photos of atrocities to a global audience.

  • March 31, 2021

    The lead lawyer defending Aung San Suu Kyi in court cases brought by the junta says the deposed state counselor, 75, is “in good health," following their first meeting -- by video -- since the coup.

  • March 30, 2021

    Military air strikes kill six villagers in Kayin state, driving thousands of ethnic Karen people to seek refuge in Thailand, where authorities turn many back. The first air raids in the region in 30 years follow bombings of villages on March 27 and 28.

  • March 28, 2021

    Marauding troops in Mandalay burn alive neighborhood watch volunteer Aye Ko, a 42-year-old father of four children, while he screams for help. But soldiers shoot at people who try to stop them from throwing the man on a pile of burning tires

  • March 27, 2021

    The junta hosts a parade and banquet for Armed Forces Day as security forces spend from morning to night firing on and arresting protesters and onlookers, killing 114 people, including six children in the highest daily death toll since the coup on what the EU calls a “day of terror and dishonor.”

  • March 26, 2021

    The military junta broadcasts a warning on state-run MRTV News that protesters must learn that they “can be in danger of getting shot in the head and back.”

  • March 25, 2021

    The United States and Britain level economic sanctions on Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC), two Myanmar military holding companies that serve as a critical economic lifeline for the junta.

  • March 24, 2021

    Myanmar’s military junta releases more than 600 people detained in weeks of anti-coup demonstrations in a rare conciliatory gesture from the hardline regime but warns the group of mostly students from Yangon that if they get caught again, they will be charged and sent to prison.

  • March 18, 2021

    Indonesia’s military chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto tells a virtual meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense chiefs he has "profound concerns" about the situation in Myanmar and offers help "in building professional armed forces in the context of a democracy.”

  • March 17, 2021

    Myanmar’s last privately owned independent newspaper, The Standard Time Daily, stops publishing — putting an end to a brief eight-year period in which independent journalism was allowed after decades of military rule since 1962.

  • March 15, 2021

    The junta imposes a 24-hour shutdown of mobile internet service in an attempt to cut off lines of communication among protesters and other members of a nationwide civil disobedience movement. At least 25 people are shot dead in cities across Myanmar.

  • March 14, 2021

    In the bloodiest day in six weeks of anti-coup protests, about 70 people are killed, including 51 people who were gunned down in Hlaingthaya township, an industrial suburb of Yangon, after Chinese-funded factories were set ablaze.

  • March 12, 2021

    The first six out of 37 media workers detained covering protests appear in video conference trials and all have their pre-trial extension period extended.

  • March 10, 2021

    An Amnesty International report based on videos from nine days of increasingly violent attacks on anti-coup protesters finds government troops using military weapons inappropriate for policing, indiscriminately spraying live ammunition in urban areas, and making a sport of shooting protesters.

  • March 7, 2021

    Soldiers begin occupying public universities, hospitals, and religious buildings nationwide and announce that five local independent news outlets — Mizzima, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), 7Day News, Myanmar Now, and Khit Thit news — have been banned from broadcasting, publishing, and posting news online.

  • March 6, 2021

    Khin Maung Latt, 58, the NLD chairman in Yangon’s outlying Pabedan township, is taken away by the army and police, with local police telling his family to retrieve his body the next day and his friend saying the party official was tortured.

  • March 4, 2021

    Junta authorities dig up the grave of Kyal Sin, a 19-year-old ethnic Chinese woman who was shot dead the previous day in Mandalay. A military vehicle and six police trucks removed her body from the Yunnan Chinese section of a local cemetery, in what was seen as an effort to cover up the cause of death.

  • March 3, 2021

    At least 38 people are killed — the new bloodiest day of the protests — and more than 100 suffered injuries from live ammunition, tear gas, and beatings by security forces in broad daylight in rallies across the country.

  • March 1, 2021

    The junta lays two new charges on Aung San Suu Kyi: Incitement for allegedly issuing reports with intent to cause public fear, and for possessing walkie-talkie radios without a license under the Telecommunications Law.

  • Feb. 28, 2021

    At least 18 people are killed when security forces fire on protesters in the bloodiest day in a month of mass demonstrations. Police in riot gear and uniformed soldiers shoot flash-bang and stun grenades and fire live and rubber bullets at protesters, causing fatalities in at least six major cities, including Yangon and Mandalay.

  • Feb. 26, 2021

    The U.N. envoy from Myanmar’s deposed civilian government, Kyaw Moe Tun, makes a dramatic appeal to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly to “use any means necessary to take action” to restore democracy and ensure the security of the people.

  • Feb. 25, 2021

    Mobs of pro-military thugs with sticks, knives, and slingshots attack anti-coup protesters at a popular rally site in Yangon, injuring at least 20 people in an escalation of violence against demonstrators.

  • Feb. 24, 2021

    Foreign ministers Retno Marsudi of Indonesia, Don Pramudwinai of Thailand and Wunna Maung Lwin meet briefly in Bangkok in the first known face-to-face meetings between a senior junta member and foreign governments. Marsudi urges the junta to listen to its people.

  • Feb. 23, 2021

    The Group of Seven industrial democracies condemn “the intimidation and oppression of those opposing the coup” and voice “concern at the crackdown on freedom of expression, including through the internet blackout and draconian changes to the law that repress free speech.”

  • Feb. 22, 2021

    Hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets of major cities for all-day “22222 Popular Uprising” — drawing on the digits in 2/22/2021 — in defiance of a warning by the coup that further demonstrations could lead to “loss of life.”

  • Feb. 20, 2021

    Two protesters are shot dead when riot police fire rubber and live bullets at a crowd protecting striking government shipyard workers in Mandalay.

  • Feb. 19, 2021

    Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing is confirmed dead after doctors at her hospital in Naypyidaw terminated her life support, becoming the first protester to die at the hands of the military regime.

  • Feb. 16, 2021

    Major General Zaw Min Tun, the junta spokesman, holds the regime’s first press conference since the coup, where he attempts to defend the legality of the coup and says Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since the coup, is “in good health,”

  • Feb. 12, 2021

    Nada Al-Nashif, deputy U.N. high commissioner for human rights, says U.N. rights officials are tracking more than 350 politicians and state officials, activists, civil society members, journalists, monks, and students who have been taken into custody.

  • Feb. 10, 2021

    President Joe Biden announces economic restrictions and imminent sanctions against coup leaders as he pressed them to release Aung San Suu Kyi and respect the results of the Nov. 8 elections.

  • Feb. 9, 2021

    In Naypyidaw, a 20-year-old female protester Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing is shot in the head and another person is hit in the chest after police fire about 60 shots into a crowd of demonstrators. She dies 10 days later after life support is removed.

  • Feb. 8, 2021

    The junta sets curfews and other restrictions in major cities after public protests across the country drew hundreds of thousands of coup opponents.

  • Feb. 1, 2021

    Aung San Suu Kyi releases a message to the public using the NLD Chair Facebook page urging the people to resist military coup. U Win Htein, a well-known NLD supporter, called for peaceful opposition to the coup. “I urge people not to accept the coup by the military, and resist it resoundingly,” the statement said.

  • Feb. 1, 2021

    The military takes control of the country for one year, citing the government’s failure to act against its claims of voter fraud and refusal to postpone the November elections or the new session of parliament. Aung San Suu Kyi, Win Myint and scores of top officials are arrested.

  • Jan. 29, 2021

    The UEC rejects the military’s allegations of fraud in the elections, finding no evidence to support the claims.

  • Jan. 26, 2021

    Military Spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun warns the army will “take action” over election disputes.

  • Jan. 20, 2021

    The military calls on the UEC or parliament to prove that the November election was free and fair so that it can accept that result. “If the election can be proved free, fair and transparent, it will reflect the true wishes of the people and the Tatmadaw and certain political parties will accept the results,” it says.

  • Jan. 14, 2021

    The military raises doubts about the constitutionality of the speaker for rejection of a special session, and insists that the request was constitutional.

  • Jan. 12, 2021

    Min Aung Hlaing reportedly brings up election disputes with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi as he visits Myanmar.. Wang’s response is unknown.

  • Jan. 12, 2021

    The speaker rejects the call for a special session and says that the military and USDP attempt to take electoral fraud claims to parliament is “not relevant” because the UEC has the final authority to resolve those disputes.

  • Jan. 11, 2021

    Unelected military lawmakers USDP representatives, along with some independents and ethnic party members, call on the speaker to call a special session of Parliament to address the election concerns.

  • Jan. 8, 2021

    Min Aung Hlaing tells a gathering of military leaders: “In conducting an assessment after the election, unfair and dishonest practices were found.”

  • Dec. 23, 2020

    The military moves ahead without the UEC and releases its own “findings” of irregularities in races where the USDP suffered defeats. The report claims more than 7.6 million cases of illegal voting, an assertion rejected by election authorities.

  • Dec. 10, 2020

    Military news outlet Tatmadaw True News Information Team attacks the UEC and says the military’s request was legal, adding that the UEC should remove all doubts about the election by investigating the military’s claims.

  • Dec. 7, 2020

    The UEC rejects the military’s demand to hand over election-related documents, citing a lack of formal complaints, and says it will hand over evidence to subcommittees “only when inspections are made [following] electoral complaints.”

  • Nov. 30, 2020

    The military announces it will “review” the election process after claiming several disputes at polling sites across the country. A Tatmadaw affiliated news team says the military is reviewing balloting in 218 townships where military personnel and their families cast votes.

  • Nov. 8, 2020

    The ruling NLD wins an outright majority of 396 total seats in parliament, compared to the military-backed USDP’s 33 seats.

  • Nov. 8, 2020

    Min Aung Hlaing casts his ballot and tells reporters “I will accept an election result that reflects the people’s will.”

  • Nov. 5, 2020

    Military threatens to impeach president Win Myint and says the Constitution guarantees the army’s status as the “guardian.”

  • Nov. 3, 2020

    Military chief Min Aung Hlaing says “In 2015 I said that the UEC had the final say on the election results and we would accept it. This time it seems that we have to be very cautious. I don’t want it to happen.”

  • Nov. 2, 2020

    The military casts doubt on the ability of the Union Election Commission (UEC) to address their concerns about the Nov. 8 election. “Weakness and deficiencies which were never seen in the previous elections are appearing now. They can have adverse impacts on the image of the election.”

  • Aug. 14, 2020

    General Min Aung Hlaing tells a meeting of pro-military parties that he is “brave enough to do anything. Anything that could have a negative impact on the country, the people, and the future of the military [is my concern].”

  • Nov. 8, 2015

    The NLD wins a sweeping victory in general elections that were the first openly held since 1990. The military retained significant power under a constitution that also barred Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency. Her government circumvents the restrictions by creating the State Counselor position for her.