'We Want Democracy!': Despite Internet Blackout, Tens of Thousands Protest Military Coup in Myanmar

Protesters hold posters during a demonstration against the military coup in Myanmar near the royal palace in Mandalay on February 7, 2021. (Photo: str/AFP via Getty Images)

'We Want Democracy!': Despite Internet Blackout, Tens of Thousands Protest Military Coup in Myanmar

"The Myanmar military has engaged in a naked power grab that if not reversed will set back democracy and the protection of human rights for a generation," warned one human rights advocate.

Tens of thousands of people on Sunday took to the streets of Yangon and across Myanmar for a second straight day to protest a military coup that has drawn international condemnation and demand the immediate release of elected leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials from the National League for Democracy party who have been detained since Monday.

Sunday saw "the biggest protests since the 2007 Saffron Revolution that helped lead to democratic reforms," Reutersreports. Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by military juntas from 1962 until 2011. Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and spent years under house arrest, came to power after her party's landslide victory in the 2015 election.

While Suu Kyi has faced intense global criticism for her complicity in the military's genocidal assault on the Asian nation's Rohingya Muslim minority, the thousands in the streets this weekend--many with shirts, flags, and balloons in red, the color of the NLD--made clear that they oppose her detention and want to governed by elected officials not the military.

The military--which said that it carried out the coup in response to unsubstantiated allegations of fraud in the 2020 election, which the NLD also won by a landslide--restored internet services on Sunday after ordering a blackout on Saturday, a move that followed reported internet and phone outages earlier in the week.

Amnesty International's deputy regional director for campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said in a statement Saturday that "to shut down the internet amid a volatile coup, a humanitarian crisis, and a health pandemic is a heinous and reckless decision," and called on the military to "re-establish all telecommunications immediately and stop putting people's rights in danger."

Limited access to social media and the internet didn't deter protesters throughout the weekend, who marched through the streets chanting, "Long live Mother Suu," "Down with military dictatorship," and "We don't want military dictatorship! We want democracy!"

Some, according toReuters, carried posters that read: "You fucked with the wrong generation."

Thaw Zin, a 21-year-old who joined a massive crowd Yangon on Sunday, told Reuters that "we don't want a dictatorship for the next generation or for us."

"If we don't stand this time for our country, our people, there is no one," Thaw Zin said. "Evil will fall on us. We will never forgive them for the trouble they have brought to us."

Although many of the protesters were younger adults, the demonstrations drew participation from various age groups.

"We just want to show this current generation how the older generation fights this crisis, by heeding the guideline of Mother Suu, which is to be honest, transparent, and peaceful," 46-year-old Htain Linn Aung told the Associated Press. "We don't want a military dictator. Let the dictator fail."

The AP noted that "the elected lawmakers of Suu Kyi's party met in an online meeting Friday to declare themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of the people and asked for international recognition as the country's government."

Human rights advocates and politicians around the world as well as United Nations leaders and the U.N. Security Council have expressed alarm over the military takeover.

In response to journalists in Myanmar reporting harassment and threats of arrest, Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, declared in a statement Friday that "a news and information blackout by the coup leaders can't hide their politically motivated arrests and other abuses."

"The military should immediately release those arrested, restore access to online information, and protect the right to free expression," Adams said, adding that "the Myanmar military has engaged in a naked power grab that if not reversed will set back democracy and the protection of human rights for a generation."

"The coup was so appalling that even China, which has consistently protected military from condemnation at the Security Council, signed onto a call for the respect of fundamental freedoms," said Adams. "Governments should be clear-eyed about the military's appalling human rights record and together demand the military abandon its wholesale assault on civilian rule, human rights, and the rule of law."

The U.N. Security Council, in a Thursday statement, "stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law." The body further "emphasized the need for the continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that it is "absolutely essential" to carry out the Security Council's call for a return to democracy in Myanmar, "which means the reversal of the coup that took place." Guterres added that he believes "we need to have all possible areas of pressure to make it happen."

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