Voices of Myanmar: How the coup has affected legal studies

In the weeks that have passed since Myanmar’s February 1 coup d’état, as dissenters have been jailed, disappeared and killed, a group of JURIST law student correspondents* has participated in street protests by day and navigated government-ordered internet blackouts by night to report on the crisis.

Below, we share some of their insights on how their daily lives as law students have changed since the coup. What follows are perspectives gathered in recent weeks from JURIST’s correspondents and other student respondents from law schools across Myanmar. All of these responses are being published anonymously due to the risks faced by these students.  While we have made minor revisions for clarity, we have endeavored to publish these students’ words in their own voices, with minimal editorial interference.

This is part three of a series of articles in which we explore the Myanmar crisis from the perspectives of our correspondents on the front lines. All five parts can be accessed via the following links:

Yes, the coup has affected our daily lives as law students. In Myanmar, law students are very enthusiastic. We had been working hard to expand our networks with international law students and the international community to show that we are just as good as what we do as our counterparts around the globe. We had been organizing events at the regional and international levels. We had been contributing legal knowledge to the community. We had been forming law student organization to build ties between law faculties at different universities. And we were competing in international competitions and earning prizes to make our country proud. We were all working together to increase opportunities for us and for future generations of law students. But that has all stopped because of the military coup. We should be working toward a brighter future, but instead we’re protesting against military rule.  We need to end the injustice now so we can keep moving forward.

The military has cut off our internet every day from 1:00 am to 9:00 am, in violation of our rights. Before this all happened, my friends and I were supposed to participate in a high-level international academic competition. Given the circumstances, many teams withdrew from the challenge and the national rounds were cancelled. This would have been a highlight of my legal studies, and I was robbed of the opportunity.

We were hoping that the universities would open back up as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic was over. Now that the Military coup happened, all of the schools and universities are still closed and many law students from all around Myanmar are consumed with protesting against the coup, leaving little time to study.

As a law student, I was very busy working on my memos before the military coup. And since the coup, I haven’t been able to focus on my studies at all. I’ve been consumed with spreading the news about what’s happening in our country, and mourning the lives lost.

It has been more than a month already since our dreams, hopes and plans were put on hold by the military coup. Since February 1, we have lost the ability to enjoy our own lives peacefully, and now we are doing as much as we can to end the dictatorship through peaceful protests, and by boycotting all products related to the military.

I really can’t accept that this is our reality. This is not the life any of us envisioned for ourselves. As a law student from Myanmar, I condemn the unlawful and unjustified military coup, their conduct and the events that have resulted from neglecting our constitution, and even the basic human rights of the people. We have to fight until freedom and democracy prevail in our country.

If the military hadn’t seized our country, I suspect we would have soon been able soon to get the COVID vaccines, and that students would be able to go back to continue their educations. But the junta ruined our future, our dreams and our lives. Now, the civil disobedience movement in Myanmar is gaining momentum, with teachers and students protesting against the military coup. Even if schools reopen during this period, I don’t reckon we will study under this military dictatorship. We will continue to fight for democracy.

All of my activities as a law student have been disrupted since the military started routinely cutting off the internet, making internet connectivity unstable, and blocking access to legal websites. At this point, I have only one thing on my mind: we have to fight for justice until the end, no matter what happens to us, so that a crisis like this will never happen again in our country. Thus, right now, I’m protesting in the streets, making videos to show what is happening in Myanmar and sending information to people from abroad who we can trust to share our message.

As a law student, I had been participating in an internship and preparing for an international competition. But now that the internet connectivity is highly unstable, it is very difficult to attend the trainings, webinar classes, and to conduct research for my studies. We students are losing so many opportunities because of this military coup. Not only that – we have witnessed so much bloodshed in our fight against it. We need to continue fighting against this injustice to end the dictatorship so the next generation of students won’t have to suffer like this.

To be frank, the coup has crushed my dream of becoming a judge. I used to think that I would be a judge, and ensure justice for all. But I’ve watched as the military has used the law as a weapon to make people suffer, and it has robbed me of my inspiration to study.

I can’t imagine they’ll reopen the universities any time soon. So many of the protesters are students, and I’m sure they’ll do what they can to prevent protesters from being united.

I’ve had to stop my legal internship program because the conditions on the ground are too unsafe. I can’t even concentrate on my studies anymore.

I’m a law student in Myanmar who is unable to take to the streets as a protestor. This coup has really made a mess of my daily life as a student; these days, all I can do is worry about all my friends and the other people who are out there protesting. I have so much resentment about the injustices they’re experiencing, and the losses we’ve endured.

I haven’t even thought about attending class or taking exams. I need to focus on keeping my strength, and staying aware of the situation, so that I can fight back. I’m sick of this life and I feel like I can’t do anything effectively.

I haven’t slept well since the military coup started. I feel bad mentally and physically, and I worry about my future. I can’t eat. I can’t stop wondering why this is happening.

As a law student, I’ve always been so focused on my future, and on becoming a great lawyer who will help work to make advances towards our country’s development. I’d always worked so hard for that, but the coup has ruined everything.

Legal education in Myanmar is in danger. We can’t learn what we want to learn freely. I haven’t slept soundly since Feb. 1. Every day has been like a living hell. The military leadership uses the law to serve their own purposes. I always thought the law was supposed to protect people and keep us safe. Now they’re making laws to harm people as they want to. I feel like I don’t have a future anymore. We no longer feel safe even going out to the streets. We’ve heard reports of people being shot at by police who weren’t even protesting.

We are facing various difficulties. We all have to worry about military forces in both daylight and at night. For me, I protest peacefully in the morning and at night, me and all my family members have to remain vigilant about our safety. This kind of daily life is too exhausting for a student to endure, but we don’t have a choice in the matter.

My daily life is miserable. I can neither think straight nor concentrate on my studies anymore. Whenever I think about studying, I end up thinking about how uncertain my future is. My drive for success no longer exists.

I had spent the last four months before the coup preparing for a major international competition. I’m worried all of that was in vain – was just as effective as throwing water into the sand.

I used to spend most of my time studying. At this point, things have gotten too hard to sustain any of that. When the coup first started, the internet was cut off around the clock. I was afraid they were going to shut our ears forever – like we were living in North Korea.

For a whole week, we couldn’t access the official Myanmar legal databases online. I felt like they were sending a message that all the laws in this country were dead, and that they could just invent new laws. As a law student, although I have legal knowledge, I felt truly powerless for the very first time in my life.

I had been planning to apply for a prestigious internship this summer, but that opportunity is gone. You can’t even make plans 24 hours in advance at this point – there are constant risks.

For the first two weeks of this crisis, I kept thinking this was all a nightmare. I couldn’t pick myself up from the pieces of lost hopes and ambitions. We can barely call each other or send message; at this point when we talk to friends, it’s only to ask whether everyone’s safe and to remind each other to stay alert.

The juntas shamelessly announced on state-run TV networks that universities and schools will soon reopen. But the teachers and students will not obey anything the junta says. We’re not going to enroll and attend any classes until we get our elected government back. Under an education system run by a junta, we’d all just be trained to be obedient and not to have any opinions. We would never be well-educated under that sort of system; they’re too scared of the power of knowledge and wisdom.

*Please note:  All of these responses are being published anonymously due to the risks faced by these students.  While we have made minor revisions for clarity, we have endeavored to publish these students’ words in their own voices, with minimal editorial interference.