As It Happens

'We can't just back down,' says Myanmar protester as demonstrations grow

Veiled threats, water cannons and arbitrary arrests aren't stopping people from protesting the military coup in Myanmar. 

At least 3 demonstrators killed since the military seized control of the government 3 weeks ago

Protesters shout slogans while marching with a banner on Monday in Yangon, Myanmar. (Hkun Lat/Getty Images)

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Veiled threats and violent crackdowns aren't stopping people from protesting the military coup in Myanmar. 

Thousands of people took to the streets in Yangon and other Myanmar cities on Monday, marking some of the biggest demonstrations since the military seized control of the government three weeks ago. 

Factories, workplaces and shops closed their doors across the country as part of a nationwide strike. 

All this, despite the ruling junta's threat on state TV that protesters "will suffer the loss of life." At least three people have killed in the protests so far. 

Thant, a 27-year-old graduate student in Yangon, has been out in the streets every day. CBC is identifying her by her middle name in order to protect her from reprisal by the military. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

We are talking to you just before we understand the military might be shutting down the internet. How concerned are you about what might happen tonight in Myanmar?

Since the coup happened, we're concerned almost every night because we can never know what they will do. And for the past few weeks, they have been arresting so many people without any warrants.

There are so many things that they do at night, and days too, so nobody can sleep peacefully.

You have been out on the streets every day…. What was it like today in your city of Yangon?

There were so many people. And I was out in the morning, but I was almost backed into one place because there were so many people. It's almost like the whole city came out to protest.

I am lucky that I'm in the capital where we have a lot of media coverage. However, there have been so many people being arrested and people have been killed already in other states, in other parts of the country, where there [was] not a lot of media coverage.

So for now, I'm not that concerned about my safety, even though I know that is an option that I also could get hurt. I'm more worried about the people in the other areas of my country.

The demonstrators took to the streets in Mandalay in opposition to the military coup that happened Feb. 1. (Reuters)

There have also been a lot of strikes, right? The banks aren't functioning. Machines don't have cash. Civil servants are abandoning their posts. The people that drive the buses, they're not out. So what effect is that having on day-to-day life?

We are more worried about the coup and [that] the military government will become a norm.

So yes, our day-to-day life has changed. But we only have one mission, which is fight to remove the coup to get back our democracy.

What do you think the military strategy is at this point?

I am not sure because we have been expecting them to do similar tactics that they used during 1988, and they did use some of them.

When you mentioned 1988, this is … August 1988, a very important date in Myanmar, when the military leaders cracked down in a very bloody way on protests of students in Myanmar. They killed thousands of people. So is that very much in people's minds? Even though you were you born since then, you weren't old enough to remember that, is that on people's minds on the streets?

Yes, everybody has been comparing to that and people [have] that in mind. And we are … doing this movement consciously, comparing what they might do, what we should do, how to avoid their tricks.

But in 1998, you didn't have social media, did you? Now you do. How different does that make it, the fact that you can actually communicate with each other, and you don't have to go through state television in order to do it?

The military state controls the internet and I might get internet shut down any time soon. And so when they shut down the internet, we couldn't communicate much.

But yes, it's easier to communicate. But at the same time, we also have site wars where they also release fake news through social media, so people have to be very careful.

People gather during a candlelight vigil in Yangon on Sunday evening in the hope of restoring their country's democracy. (Reuters)

What's it like out on the streets? When you're out there, just give us a sense of the atmosphere, the mood of people that you're protesting with.

When I go out, I just feel like I become more hopeful than when I stay inside, because I see people so united and so conscious. Even though they're from so many different backgrounds, so many different economic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, that people have been very, very helpful to each other. 

That's why I've been going out every day. Because if I just stay inside, I will go crazy for seeing and knowing what they have been doing.

However … when I see these uniformed soldiers and police, of course I'm [afraid] But, you know, we have to do that.

But your parents remember, I'm sure, 1988, what it was like, how bloody that crackdown was. What do they think of you being out on the streets every day?

My mom is very, very worried and she honestly didn't want me to go out. But my dad has been supportive and he said, you know, "Don't live in fear anymore. Just do it."

My mom doesn't say anything anymore because she also knows that she couldn't stop us anyway. So she just stays inside and prays for us. That's the best she can do right now.

Yangon demonstrators stand in line as they form a message with their T-shirts: 'Reject the military.' (Reuters)

But we know it's very worrisome. There are people in the protests, they're actually writing their blood type on their hands, emergency phone numbers, in case they get injured. So what does that say to you?

Nothing is predictable. [The military] could do anything. We know the military our whole life, so we know how brutal they are.

There was a warning last night on your state television that … ["Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life"].  Do you take that as a warning?

Yes, we do…. We know that that's an option and we know that that could happen at any point. But we've got to do what we've got to do. We can't just back down. We can't live in the dark ages anymore.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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