by Petra Chase, SFU Student
On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military staged a coup. Armed soldiers occupied the streets and democratically-elected officials were detained. Protesters organized at the Vancouver Art Gallery on February 3 and 13 to reject their takeover.
Demonstrators held signs with messages like “Let not their crimes be our fear.” They led group chants in both Burmese and English, asking the military to “get out.” The event remained peaceful and followed social distancing guidelines.
Myanmar’s military declared they would take power for a one-year state of emergency. Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing reasoned that the November election voter lists “were found to have huge discrepancies.” However, there has not been evidence of fraudulence.
At the protest, Calvin Yin, a Burmese international student at SFU, gave a speech, asking for “urgent assistance to stop the military coup by necessary actions and interventions immediately, to protect democracy and freedom of Myanmar.” He told The Peak in an interview, “There’s nothing much we can do except help them from here.”
Canada issued a statement condemning the coup: “We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically-elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law.”
Hundreds signed a petition calling for Canada to take further action, such as a draft “motion to refer this matter to the International Criminal Court.” The Myanmar in British Columbia group released a statement to recognize military leadership as illegitimate.
Yin recalls the past decade as being a period of improvement in democracy and freedom in Myanmar. “It was all taken away in one night,” he remarked.
David Matijasevich, an SFU professor specializing in South East Asian comparative politics explained, “While [Western powers] certainly want to put pressure on Myanmar [ . . . ] that might be harder to do because there’ll be concern that a very strong reaction against Myanmar might actually push it closer to China, and push it further into its camp.”
Matijasevich also told The Peak, “In terms of having a true multilateral response, that will be quite tough, because in the last decade or so, Russia and China have tended to lock or veto these types of calls for UN-sponsored sanctions on issues that are affecting their neighboring countries.”
In Myanmar, nation-wide protests against the military continue to intensify. The military has responded by using water cannons and rubber bullets against protesters, and releasing over 23,000 prisoners to make room for mass nightly arrests.
“We are not the ones who are at immediate risk,” Yin said, referring to Myanmar people living abroad. “But to not know that something — anything — can happen at any time to our friends and family, it’s really worrying.”
On the February 13 protest in Vancouver, a minute of silence was held for 19-year-old protester Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing, who lost her life by the military.