explainer

Over 400 pro-democracy protestors dead: This is what is happening in Myanmar.

"I told them that they can kill me."

Those are the words of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, a nun who went on her knees in front of police in Myanmar as she pleaded for peace this month. 

"I am not standing up until they give their promise that they will not brutally crack down on protesters," she recalled in a phone interview with Reuters

“I begged them not to hurt the protesters, but to treat them kindly like family members.” 

Her prayers were not answered. She saw a child's head explode. 

"There was a river of blood on the street," she said.

Scenes such as this have become a fixture of mass protests that have flared up across Myanmar since the country's military seized control on February 1.  

On Saturday, Myanmar experienced their deadliest day yet, with 114 people killed in a brutal military suppression on pro-democracy protesters. This includes at least six children, according to news reports and witnesses. 

Protesters have called the victims 'Fallen Stars'.

On Sunday, security forces opened fire at a funeral where people were mourning one of the 'Fallen Stars'.

Anti-coup protesters set off flares as they prepare to defend themselves against security forces on March 28, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar. Image: Getty. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"While we are singing the revolution song for [a person who was killed], security forces just arrived and shot at us," a woman called Aye who was at the service said, according to AAP

"People, including us, run away as they opened fire."

The total death toll since the coup now stands at over 400 civilians.

The unrest comes after Aung San Suu Kyi — who has now been detained — won the country's general election last year by a landslide. The military disputed the election results, despite no evidence, and consequently declared total control of the country and a year-long state of emergency.

Here's what you need to know about what is going on in Myanmar.

Deadly protests.

Hundreds of thousands of people, including teachers, lawyers, students, bank officers and government workers, have taken to the streets to rise up against the military regime. 

Police have reacted by using water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition against them. 

Riot police intervene during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 6, 2021. Image: Getty. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The United Nations has condemned the violence against protesters and called on the army to show restraint. However, the violence has only continued — even escalated. 

Social media is awash with photos of dead bodies in the street. One witness called the country a "slaughter ground".

How is the military controlling its citizens?

The military has imposed multiple restrictions, including curfews and limits to gatherings.

The regime has banned access to social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, partly to stop the coordination of protests. 

The military has also imposed nightly internet blackout across the country and revoked the licenses of five independent media organisations. Dozens of journalists have also been detained, meaning it could be illegal to simply report on what is occurring in Myanmar for journalists on the ground.

One woman during a funeral ceremony for a protestor who was shot and killed by the Myanmar Security Forces on March 3, 2021. Image: Getty. 

What started this unrest in Myanmar?

Myanmar has a long history of political unrest. 

This latest coup was triggered by an election in November 2020 that was a contest between the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). 

The NLD won the democratic election in a landslide. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The military claimed widespread "election fraud," despite there being no evidence to support these claims (yes, their sentiment echoed that of former President of the United States Donald Trump). 

The USDP demanded a re-do of the election, but NLD said there was no need. An election commission handed down its findings on January 28 this year, which confirmed no errors were made and rejected all allegations of voter fraud. 

This triggered a military spokesperson to warn they may "take action" if there was not a re-run of the election.

On February 1, 2021, they delivered on their threat. 

On the day Parliament was due to hold their first session, under the leadership of the NLD, the military staged a coup.

Violent protests have erupted on the streets of Myanmar in response to the military coup. Image: Getty. 

Is there a history of military control in Myanmar?

Yes. 

The military has possessed dictatorship-like power in Myanmar from 1962 until 2011, before parliamentary elections were introduced to form a quasi-democracy. 

In 2015, the country — formerly known as Burma — held their first national vote and elected the National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide victory. This meant Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, was the country’s new civilian leader.

Myanmar was still only considered partially democratic, though, because their military-drafted constitution guarantees that unelected army members will occupy 25 per cent of seats in Parliament.   

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi's election win in 2015 was considered a crucial moment in the transition from a military dictatorship to a democracy. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Suu Kyi was imprisoned between 1989 and 2010 for her involvement in a civilian movement against the military. She became an international icon for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. 

Aung San Suu Kyi was detained by the military on Monday morning. Image: Getty. 

In 2015, she became the country's civilian leader alongside their President U Win Myint.

More recently, however, she has gained a problematic reputation after she defended Myanmar's crimes against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, during a 2019 trial at the International Court of Justice.

The military's recent coup saw Suu Kyi detained alongside other leaders of her NLD party. 

In a pre-prepared statement released after the coup, Suu Kyi said: "The actions of the military are actions to put the country back under a dictatorship.

"I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military."

The country has evidently responded to her wishes. 

Now, it's unclear how long the unrest will persist, with few believing the military's one-year timeline. 

One independent analyst, David Scott Mathieson, said: "This is an army with a heart of darkness. This is an unrepentant institution."

This article was originally published on the 11th March, 2021, and has since been updated. 

Feature image: Getty