In the nearly three years that have passed since Myanmar’s coup d’état, the global media has shifted its attention to other crises, from the sudden withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But despite a lull in headlines, the turmoil that resulted from the coup remains life-altering for the generation of young activists who have been displaced by the shattering of democratic ideals.
Myanmar’s military — the Tatmadaw — staged a coup d’état on February 1, 2021, detaining top government officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. The military claimed that the election results were fraudulent, but independent observers have dismissed these claims. The coup has sparked widespread protests and civil disobedience, with many people calling for the release of the detained leaders and the restoration of democracy. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights organization dedicated to justice in Myanmar, more than 4,000 people have so far been killed by Myanmar’s military junta since the coup, and upwards of 24,000 have been arrested, charged or sentenced.
For JURIST, coverage of the Myanmar coup is personal. Despite the risks, Myanmar law student correspondents – most of them women – covered the coup for JURIST from its beginning and have kept reporting in its aftermath. In a bid to keep the crisis in the public dialogue, we have conducted a series of interviews with some of the law students and young lawyers whose lives have been affected by Myanmar’s tumult, ranging from law students who fled abroad to save their futures and continue their studies to those who put down their textbooks and went into the jungle to take up arms against the junta as part of the pro-democracy resistance. Their accounts reflect the full range of emotional responses, from despair to anger to hope.
The interviews, which will be published in a series of articles, explore the challenges and opportunities facing young people in Myanmar as they navigate a country in political turmoil. This is the fifth interview in a seven-part series, with links to all that have been published so far below. Please note that our interviewees’ names have been kept private to protect their security unless otherwise noted.
Interview 1: ‘Surviving is sometimes the only way to live in Myanmar’
Interview 2: ‘I truly believe our lives will be brighter after the revolution’
Interview 3: ‘The coup has made me both tougher and more compassionate’
Interview 4: ‘The fact is, I cannot bear to live under oppression’
Interview 5: ‘We will win. We will restore democracy’
Would you briefly introduce yourself? What was your life like before the coup?
I am a law student at the University of Yangon. My life was going well at that time. Before the coup, I was studying the law, doing volunteer work, and doing a lot
How are you doing now, two and a half years after the coup?
Since the coup, there have been many changes. However, at the moment, I believe I’m doing fine. While it’s become challenging to pursue formal education, I have managed to continue my studies as I have always been more inclined toward self-study. That said, even when it comes to my own studies of the law, significant changes have occurred, notably in the decline of legal discussion events. Pre-coup, we used to have regular online gatherings for law students every week, where we’d engage in discussions and learning sessions. However, post-coup, both the organizations hosting these events and student participation have notably decreased for various reasons. There’s a prevailing fear of potential arrest linked to organizing law and politics-related events, prompting many students to move away from the legal sphere. Presently, it’s exceedingly challenging to find such events. I am concerned that this situation might significantly impact the legal education of Myanmar students, particularly those who oppose the current education system.
As a law student, do you think the international community is showing enough support for the people of Myanmar? What more could they do to help?
I don’t think the international community is doing enough to show their support for us, but unfortunately that’s a product of the times. Myanmar is just one of the many countries facing a horrible situation. That said, for those who are interested in Myanmar despite everything else that’s happening, there are a few things that can be helpful, such as publicly recognizing the National Unity Government as the one and only legitimate government of Myanmar and establish relations with it, supporting Myanmar students by providing educational opportunities for them, and conducting academic research on Myanmar to elucidate and ultimately help solve some of our societal issues.
What are your thoughts on the Civil Disobedience Movement as a law student when the military junta is pressuring all university students to go back to classes?
I respect students boycotting the current education system by refusing to attend school. Still, I think students should take care to continue their own learning processes by whatever means are available.
What do you think about the leadership of the National Unity Government as a parallel government of Myanmar?
At first, I was strongly rooting for the NUG. As students, we had high expectations, not only for the success of the revolution but also for the educational value we could gain during this period. However, the efforts made by the NUG are falling short in addressing our needs. There’s a pressing requirement for them to intensify their endeavors and exhibit greater concern for the welfare of the populace. They must act promptly and decisively, leaving no room for hesitation, in ensuring the success of this revolution.
How do you anticipate the Spring Revolution will end?
I still believe that we will win; I believe we will restore federal democracy in Myanmar. The journey won’t be quick or easy, but we will get there.
Do you have any parting words for law students and lawyers across the international community?
To me, the most important thing is for Myanmar’s youth not to let our minds go to waste; we may not be receiving a proper education, but it is critical that we continue to aspire to learn. If you, as readers, know of any options that would enable students to keep up their studies, be it through a scholarship program, an internship, or anything else, please do so.*
*Editor’s note: If you have any such opportunities, please contact JURIST. We would be happy to put you in touch with relevant contacts in country.