TAIPEI – The military coup in Myanmar is nearly two months old, but the armed forces, also known as the Tatmadaw, are continuing their violent pushback against anti-coup demonstrators.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma, thousands have been detained and hundreds killed.
The junta government, officially the State Administrative Council, has also imposed widespread internet shutdowns that have hampered protesters’ online communications, a key method for organizing demonstrations.
Several pro-democracy activists speaking out against the coup have been forced into hiding to avoid harsh repercussions.
Moe Thway is a veteran activist and co-founder of Generation Wave, a pro-democracy movement that was created following the 2007 Saffron Revolution, the last time major demonstrations were held against military rule in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.
The 40-year-old is no stranger to Myanmar authorities. He told VOA he’d faced more than 20 criminal cases for his activism in the past and had served two stints in jail.
“The first one was in 2012 for nine days,” he said. “In 2013 I was sentenced after facing one of them trials, I was sentenced for one month.”
He is now one of the hundreds of activists wanted by Myanmar authorities following a crackdown on the latest demonstrations.
“I’m on the warrant list issued by the military council,” he said. “They accuse me [of] building the network to run the Civil Disobedient Movement together with the other students and youth. They accuse me as kind of vocal person for all civil society.”
Those who have joined the Civil Disobedient Movement (CDM) are usually Myanmar professionals, such as health workers and lawyers, who have refused to work under military rule. The movement has recently been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, according to reports.
But in comparison to what Thway faces today, his previous stints in jail may seem relatively short. He told VOA he was wanted for violating section 505(B) of Myanmar’s penal code, which can carry a prison sentence for inciting public unrest.
“Up to seven years in jail, maybe more than that,” he said. “The charge isn’t really important because if they arrest, if they caught anyone, they can add any charge … high treason or whatever.”
But Thway admitted that the prospect of facing jail again was different this time because of the military’s brutal crackdown.
“We’ve heard a lot of news they’ve tortured the [detainees], activists and people these days,” he said. “Some are tortured and interrogated because they want information from them, and to [link them to pro-democracy groups].
“And some are tortured for no reason,” said Thway. “People were killed after [being] captured.”
Despite the risks, Thway said he’s determined to evade capture and continue resisting the coup, echoing concerns of fellow prominent activists such as Maung Saungkha and Thinzar Shunlei Li, who’ve both said the movement would suffer if they were captured.
“The reason why we are hiding is to continue the movement,” said Thway.
After gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has spent most of its modern history under military rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had led the country since its first open democratic election in 2015, but Myanmar’s military contested last November’s election results, claiming widespread electoral fraud, largely without evidence.
On February 1, they removed the NLD government, detaining Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
The military has since deployed armored vehicles and fired live ammunition to suppress protests, while martial law has been imposed in townships across the country.
In response to the coup, ousted NLD lawmakers formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), which refuses to recognize the new regime.
Thway is hopeful a three-pronged, anti-coup resistance — sustained protests backed by the CDM and the CRPH movements — can prevail.
“We are hoping and expecting there might be another form of government,” he said. “Also, the CRPH and the acting government are already discussing the new federal constitution. That is very important.”
The Myanmar Now news service recently reported that a proposed draft constitution that would collate all opposition parties into a formal coalition is nearing completion.
“We need unity among the different ethnicities in the country,” Thway told VOA. “At the same time, the political leaders are saying if we have a legitimate government, we need a legitimate army, officials to protect the people.”
Spanning seven decades, conflict in Myanmar has already been the world’s longest ongoing civil war, with a series of insurgencies largely arising from ethnic-based hostilities.
And Thway admits two governments battling for power would lead to a nationwide conflict but believes people are prepared for the worst.
“This could be a very intensified second wave and a bigger civil war than before. In this case, most of the people are expecting that,” he said.
“Many parts of the country will be in chaos. I don’t think we can win the coup and have normal activities,” he added. “There could be an economic crisis, [or] other crises like food and humanitarian crises.
“The revolution is already for 70 days,” he said. “[Ethnic groups] know how to survive. We have to learn from that.”