JURIST EXCLUSIVE – Young law students in Myanmar are defending democracy online and in public demonstrations as they resist the February 1 military takeover that deposed civilian Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Reaching out to a wide international public on social media, deploying video and graphics and using Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Signal and a range of other apps on their mobile phones they have launched insistent and creative appeals over the Internet criticizing the new military government. Law students have also gone into the streets in university cities like Mandalay, joining young lawyers in shows of strength that recall crowds of youths from the 1988 Revolution more than a generation ago.
On Tuesday, students and other protestors in several cities in Myanmar defying a new ban on assembly were met with water cannon and rubber bullets, but they were back the next day, chanting and singing and calling on police to join them in sympathy. Some of the law students in the online resistance are only in their teens – law in Myanmar is an undergraduate degree, as it still is in many other countries that were formally a part of the British Empire.
Not surprisingly, these cyber-savvy law students are very concerned about potential “loss of signal” in the event the military government cuts off Internet access, as it did for a day late last week. One of JURIST’s own law student correspondents in Myanmar told a JURIST interviewer Wednesday that she was getting up every day to check if the Internet was still on. Law students have been particularly concerned about a draft cybersecurity bill said to be in preparation by the military government that would dramatically restrict Internet access, allow wide online monitoring of private communications, and perhaps even impose a Chinese-style “Great Firewall” effectively cutting the county off from disapproved international media and other resources.
Reflecting on the situation of the country and her own position, the law student JURIST spoke to said:
I’m sure we will win – we are going to win – this battle right now. If the 1988 uprising was Infinity War then this is 2021. [This] is the end game. We have to end the military dictatorship and we have to suppress them. As as a law student, I want to study the law freely… As a law student I want to do everything that I can do for my country.
Watch Wednesday’s full JURIST interview below. Our correspondent’s camera was blocked and her screen name was changed to protect her identity. The interviewer is JURIST staffer Khushali Mahajan, a law student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law in neighboring India. JURIST is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in the United States. It has a staff of 80+ law student volunteers working from 29 law schools on five continents.