The Current

'We will not go back to the dark age': Why students are risking their safety to shed light on Myanmar coup

A Burmese law student who is helping funnel information to the outside world, about the violence happening in Myanmar, says she’s speaking out so future generations will have a chance at living in a democracy.

American-run legal website JURIST helping disseminate students’ eyewitness accounts

Demonstrators hold signs depicting Myanmar's detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb. 14. (Reuters)

Read Story Transcript

A Burmese law student who is helping funnel information to the outside world, about the violence happening in Myanmar, says she's speaking out so future generations will have a chance at living in a democracy.

"If we cannot end this coup right now, [then] in the future — like in more decades and decades — we will still have to be fearful towards [the ruling military]," said Vincenzo, whose real name The Current is withholding because she fears for her safety.

"We cannot let that happen," she told Matt Galloway. "We have to fix everything right now and we have to fight for this. We have to fight for our voice."

Myanmar's military seized power from the country's democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the beginning of February, setting off a wave of protests and a violent crackdown by security forces. Since then, hundreds of protesters and bystanders have reportedly been killed, along with dozens of police and security forces members. 

We have to speak out so that we can end the situation as soon as possible.- Vincenzo, law student

Vincenzo echoed those reports, saying her days living in Myanmar are plagued by fear. People are afraid to go out because they might be shot by the military, she explained. Meanwhile, security forces are checking people's phones, looking for dissidents who they kidnap, torture and kill, she said.

Soldiers ride in military armoured vehicles in Myitkyina, Kachin state, on Feb. 3, two days after Myanmar's ousted leader Suu Kyi was detained in a military coup. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

That's why Vincenzo and other law students in Myanmar are sharing reports of what's happening on the ground with JURIST, an American-owned, online legal news service run by students from 29 law schools around the world.

"We have to let the world know. We have to ask for help," she said. "We have to speak out so that we can end the situation as soon as possible."

Getting the word out

JURIST started working with Burmese law students in February, as students began broadcasting "SOS" messages about what was happening during the coup, said Bernard Hibbitts, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, and JURIST's publisher and editor in chief.

Relying on technologies like WhatsApp, students would send real-time updates about protests, or offer their comments and analysis of the situation, said Hibbitts. Then, JURIST would feature that information in the reports on its website, or post videos and photos shared by students in Myanmar.

Bernard Hibbitts is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and the publisher and editor in chief of JURIST, an American-owned, online legal news service. (Submitted by Bernard Hibbitts)

The website's general goal is to give law students a voice, Hibbitts said. In Myanmar, that goal is even more critical right now, he added, because the military takeover means students are losing their futures.

"I would literally get messages from my students … [saying] that we are sitting here, hiding in-house, because the police and soldiers have cracked down on our protests.

"Or they're telling me that there's some sort of battle going on in the street down the block, and they're carrying a body past my house right now," Hibbitts told Galloway. 

"We desperately wanted to get that out, and we are continuing to get that out as we can, as it happens."

Students march during a protest against the military coup at Dagon University in Yangon on Feb. 5. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

'We have to win this,' says student

It's dangerous work for law students in Myanmar — who Hibbitts said are mostly women — to be sharing such information.

In the process of doing so, they've shown incredible bravery and dedication to the protection of human rights, he said.

It's part of the reason he believes they'll "outwit the powers that be" in the long run.

For Vincenzo, that's the only option.

A man holds a National League for Democracy political party flag during a protest in Yangon on March 27. (Reuters)

"Sometimes I feel very sad and very fearful about what I have faced … but I have never lost the faith that we will win, and we have to win this," she said. 

That's how most young people in Myanmar feel, she added, because they have already experienced democracy and what it means to have their human rights protected.

"We have seen the daylight," she said. "We will not go back to the dark age again."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Ines Colabrese.

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