Every evening at 8 p.m., the loyal presenter of Burmese military television announces the day’s hunts. Photos of the police records of those accused of political crimes appear on the screen. Among them are doctors, students, actors, journalists, even a few makeup bloggers.
Some faces appear swollen and bruised, possibly from questioning. They are a warning to anyone to oppose the military junta that seized power on February 1 and arrested the country’s civilian rulers.
As the nocturnal insect cycle, hunting intensifies. Military censors have cut internet access in most parts of the country, combining the darkness outside with a blackout. Soldiers search towns, arrest, kidnap and attack with slingshots and guns.
Knocks on doors at night, arbitrary and feared, generate a fever of self-preservation. Residents are deleting their Facebook accounts, destroying incriminating cellphone chips and erasing traces of support for Myanmar’s elected government. Sleeping becomes difficult, as if much of the country suffers from collective insomnia.
Just over a decade ago, the simplest of offenses – having a photo of the country’s democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, an unregistered cell phone, or a single foreign currency note – could mean jail time. Some Orwellian orders from the army rivaled those from North Korea.
Three months after the experience of democracy in Myanmar was strangled by the coming to power of the generals, the sense of apprehension returned. There is no indication that it will decrease. For almost 60 years, the dominance of the military in Myanmar has been driven not by grand ideology, but by fear. Today, when a large part of the population is determined to resist those who organized the coup, a new military junta is consolidating its power by resorting, once again, to a reign of terror.
“Myanmar is going back to the bad old days, when people were very afraid that their neighbors would report them and be arrested for no reason,” said Ko Moe Yan Naing, a former policeman who is now in hiding after opposing the Rebellion. .
The prisons are again filled with poets, Buddhist monks and politicians. Hundreds more, many of them young, have disappeared and their families do not know his whereabouts, according to a group following the arrests by the military. More than 770 civilians have been killed by security forces since the coup, including dozens of children.
Just like years ago, people walk the adrenaline-filled streets, with the sensation of hair standing on the back of the neck, when the longer gaze of a soldier or a passer-by cools the air.
But if the junta returns to the regime of fear, it is keeping another country hostage. The popular opposition reaction to the coup, which was protesting in hundreds of towns and villages, was certainly not in the plans of the military, which made their repression riskier. Neither the outcome of the coup d’état nor the fate of the resistance is defined.
Myanmar’s real departure from isolation – economic, political and social – came just five years ago, when the military began sharing power with an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Today, citizens are experienced in social media and understand the strength of protests linked to global movements. They know how to locate a good political meme on the internet.
His resistance to the coup included a nationwide strike and civil disobedience movement that crippled the economy and corroded the government. Banks and hospitals are practically closed. Although the UN has warned that half the country could live in poverty next year due to the pandemic and political crisis, the will of the democratic opposition shows no sign of abating.
At the end of March, Ma Thuzar Nwe, professor of history, marked her skin by challenge. The tattoo on the back of the neck says “Spring revolution February 2021”.
Today, police are arresting people on the streets, looking for evidence on their phones or bodies to support the government of national unity, a civil authority organized after elected leaders were expelled by the military. . One popular tactic is to paste an image of General Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader, onto the sole of the shoe, smashing his face to the ground with every step. At police checks, people are now asked to show the soles of their shoes.
But the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar Armed Forces are called, has built an entire infrastructure dedicated to one goal: to perpetuate its power at all costs.
Its oppressive bureaucracy is formidable. An army of informants, known as the “dalan,” resurfaced, monitoring the whispers and movements of neighbors.
The Department of General Administration, a large apparatus with a discreet name, which remained under military control even after the military began to share authority with the civilian government, is again pressuring administrators to monitor the political opinions of each. And local authorities have started knocking on doors and spying on homes, with the dreaded family registry system returning.
Every morning, as residents count the dead and missing, the military media present their version of reality, which prevails after the junta revoked the editorial licenses of major private newspapers.
Democracy will return soon, military headlines insist. Banking services are “normal”. Health care with “modern machines” is available. Government ministers benefit from refresher courses in English. The cultivation of soft-shell crabs “thrives” and enters the foreign market.
The Tatmadaw may have modernized its military arsenal, acquiring Chinese weapons and Russian fighter jets. But his propaganda is stuck in the past, when few disputed his narrative. There is no mention in their media of military assassinations, a crisis economy or growing armed resistance. On Wednesday (5), the State Administrative Council, as the junta calls it, banned satellite television.
Despite all the fear in Myanmar, the resistance has only grown. On Wednesday, the National Union government said it was forming a “popular defense force” to confront the Tatmadaw. Two days earlier, ethnic insurgents fighting at the borders shot down a military helicopter.
Ignoring these facts, Tatmadaw’s media devotes space to the alleged violations of thousands of civilians who must be arrested for “undermining the peace and stability of the state”. Among them are AIDS patients who are so weak that they can hardly walk.
More than for the civilian population, this propaganda aims to convince the military that the coup was necessary, according to internal sources. Isolated in military installations without good internet access, soldiers have little ability to gauge the outrage of citizens. Their news regime is made up of military television, military newspapers, and the military-dominated Facebook echo chambers on the rare occasions they manage to connect online.
But the news gets in and some officers are breaking ranks. In recent weeks, around 80 air force officers have deserted and are now in hiding, according to their colleagues.
“Politics is not a problem for the soldiers,” said an air force captain who is now in hiding and does not want his name published because his family could be punished. “Today the Tatmadaw has become a terrorist, and I don’t want to be one of them.”