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Anniversary of Myanmar coup marked with silent strike and prayer

09 February 2024

Alamy

Smoke rises from a border post after a clash between security forces and the Arakan Army, in Ghumdhum, Bandarban, on Monday. Nearly 100 members of Myanmar’s border guard have fled and are sheltering in Bangladesh

Smoke rises from a border post after a clash between security forces and the Arakan Army, in Ghumdhum, Bandarban, on Monday. Nearly 100 members of Mya...

A SILENT strike was held by civilians in Myanmar on 1 February to mark the third anniversary of the military coup that overthrew the government of Aung Sang Su Kyi (News, 5 February 2021).

The streets of cities and towns emptied in silent protest at the military junta, which the night before had announced an extension of its state of emergency for a further six months.

Joseph Kung, who heads a private university in Yangon, told the Roman Catholic news agency Fides that Christians gathered to pray during the strike “for those who have been unjustly arrested, for those who fled persecution, for all internally displaced persons who are live in distress or have lost contact with their family members”.

People “remember the hopes that arose in the 2020 general elections, the plans that young people made back then that spoke of prosperity and peace, and the efforts to contain the pandemic through national solidarity”, he said.

Pro-democracy activists were brutally suppressed after the coup. Many protesters then joined civilian-defence forces to fight back, and have united with armed ethnic groups seeking independence. Ongoing conflict has left 2.6 million people internally displaced, and thousands have been killed, the UN says. It estimates that 18.6 million people now need humanitarian assistance.

The secretary-general of the UN, António Guterres, said this week that he stood in solidarity “with the people of Myanmar and their desire for an inclusive, peaceful and just society”.

The International Court of Justice in the Hague is considering a court of genocide against Myanmar’s military, brought by The Gambia. The UK has backed the case. It alleges that Myanmar’s military and other forces have committed genocide by destroying Muslim Rohingya communities in Rakhine province in a campaign that began in 2016 (News, 16 September 2016).

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fled into Bangladesh to escape the attacks, and are still living in enormous refugee camps. A UN fact-finding mission declared in 2017 that the military had engaged in “genocidal acts” against the Rohingya.

Opposition forces have been winning back territory from the military since last October, and analysts say that the junta is weakened and overstretched, with soldiers surrendering.

Christian communities in Chin State, the only Christian majority state, allege that they have been targeted by the military, which has destroyed dozens of churches in air strikes. The Chin Human Rights Organization said that at least 67 churches have been destroyed.

Salai Mang Hre Lian, of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said that previous governments also discriminated against religious minorities, but “the attacks and direct violations and discrimination against Christian minorities are more significant and increasing” since the coup.

Attacks on religious buildings “send a powerful signal to all civilians that even in places protected by international humanitarian laws, if they support non-junta groups, they will be targets”, he said.

Christians make up six per cent of Myanmar’s population of 54 million population, 89 per cent of which is Buddhist.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is 78, was detained in the early hours of 1 February 2021, and is serving a 33-year sentence for charges that have been described as politically motivated.

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