In November 2020, the Journalist of Agense France-Presse (AFP), Lawi Weng decided to move into Thailand after the Myanmar General-Election ended. He felt unsafe having to survive in the country after the election results won the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The NLD won 396 seats, while the military-backed opposition, the Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has the rest 33 seats, from the 476 seats contested in Myanmar’s parliament. With this final result, Lawi predicts the military will not just idling. As it has been known for over six decades, Myanmar’s government is co-opted by the domination of the military junta. This hegemony continues even though Myanmar is in the midst of an economic crisis, the turmoil of mass protests, and various international pressures.
Therefore, according to him, it is better to monitor political dynamics through the Signal application from Thailand than to stay in Myanmar. “We have a connection with the application,” Lawi Weng said at the online discussion entitled Solidarity for Myanmar Democracy organized by the Association for Elections and Democracy (PERLUDEM) on Thursday, April 22, 2021.
The decision was right. After three months of his run, on February 1, 2021, Lawi received news from his colleagues that the supreme leader of the military junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, has arrested NLD Party leaders, such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar President Win Mynt. Through the Television owned by the Army, Myawaddy TV, the military proclaimed a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been transferred to Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services, General Min Aung Hlaing. People on the coup argued that the civilian government failed to follow up on the claims of the Tatmadaw —Myanmar’s military— regarding fraud in the 2020 elections. “I do not expect that a coup will occur,” Lawi said.
The military coup overthrowing the civilian government, as did General Min, is the second time it has occurred in Myanmar. A similar incident occurred in 1962 when General Ne Win seized the governmental mandate from Prime Minister U Nu. The thing that Levi most regrets about the military coup is the arrested by the military against the coup opponent. Even the peaceful protests carried out by civilians were responded to by beatings, gratuitous shooting, and detaining them. As a result, 700 civilians died during the military coup, while 3,000 others were arrested until April 2021.
The military atrocities reminded Lawi of the arbitrary actions of the military junta in 1988-1990. At that time, Lawi was forced to exile himself to Thailand because he was constantly getting terrorized. It was only after 2004 that Lawi returned home to Myanmar. This is because Tatwadaw asked many media workers who had previously left Myanmar to return to help scale up the economy and wealth of the citizens. “The military general doesn’t want to cause trouble. They allow reportage,” said Lawi.
Since then, Lawi has frequently visited conflict locations throughout Myanmar, even though the locations were closely guarded by the army. Lawi can freely carry out journalistic activities by simply showing a press card to the army personnel on duty. “I feel like this is real democracy. I got press freedom. It lasted for five years, “he said.
Myanmar’s political dynamics began to shake after the USDP party lost the 2015 elections. At that time Aung San Suu Kyi was successfully elected as head of state. However, according to Lawi, the civilian victory at that time did not change many things. Myanmar appears to have two divided governments. One side is managed by civilians, the other side is controlled by the military. The military still controls important posts, especially those related to national security such as the Homeland, Border, and Defense Ministries.
After two years, Lawi, who at that time worked for Irrawadyy Magazine with two of his colleagues, Aye Nae and Pyae Phone Naing from the Voice of Burma (DVB) media were arrested while covering the drug extermination by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), one of the armed ethnic group in the Shan. At that time TNLA and the military were involved in a shootout in Phayargui Village. As a result of the conflict, Lawi and his colleagues were detained at a military facility in Shan State in northeast Myanmar. “Even though this is under a civilian government, I didn’t expect it,” he said.
Meanwhile, at this time, said Lawi, acts of violence carried out by the military were getting out of control. They often chase protesters and journalists into people’s homes. “He said he would arrest journalists. 40 journalists have been arrested,” he said.
Two of them are Than Htike Aung who is a journalist for Mizzima News, and a BBC Burmese journalist named Aung Thura. Both were arrested by undercover police outside the Naypyidaw District Court building in mid-March while covering the trial of a politician from the National League for Democracy Party, Win Htein.
This resulted in many journalists who followed Lawi fleeing to the border of Myanmar and Thailand. But hiding in Thailand is not without any problems. The reason is until now the Thai government has not been able to provide certainty about granting asylum for Myanmar citizens who are passing through due to the political crisis.
Strengthen Journalist Solidarity
Tharindu Abeyrathna, a researcher of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), presented several findings related to human rights violations in Myanmar after the coup. Among other things, cutting off the internet connection and pressuring the media not to report all the events that took place in Myanmar. “The media office was looted. ransacked. They stopped journalists’ work while covering,” Tharindu said in an online discussion in PERLUDEM, Thursday, April 22, 2021.
To suppress freedom of expression, the military junta even arrested social media activists, celebrities, influential figures, and influencers in social media. All public access to information is controlled by the military junta. “On the one hand the junta manipulated state television for propaganda about election fraud and reasons for the coup,” he said.
In this case, Tharindu regrets that the military prefers to use violent means rather than resolve allegations of electoral fraud in court. “An investigation must be carried out and directed into an election dispute, not a coup,” he said. Electoral dispute resolution is an integral part of any democratic process. “In the future, it must be encouraged to form a new political dialogue with all stakeholders,” added Tharindu.
Meanwhile, Eni Mulia, the Director of Jakarta-based Nusantara Media Development Association (PPMN), emphasized the importance of journalist solidarity for Myanmar. One thing that can be pursued, according to Eni, is to protect journalists who choose to leave Myanmar, as well as to use journalists’ professional organizations to follow the development of information from Myanmar. “This is to support journalists and civilians in Myanmar,” said Eni.
Ichal Supriyadi, the Secretary-General of the Asian Democracy Network (ADN), calling for the military regime in Myanmar to take responsibility for the humanitarian crisis. According to Ichal, the victims who have fallen, are not only youths but also children. Not a few of the people who asked for asylum in other countries. They need food and necessities which to date have not provided the government of India and Thailand at the border,” said Ichal.
a Hope to ASEAN
Apart from humanitarian assistance from neighboring countries, The countries in Southeast Asia are also expected to be able to pressure Myanmar Military Commander Min Aung Hlaing to immediately stop the political and security crisis. According to Lawi, ASEAN member countries need to recall ASEAN’s goals and urge Myanmar to carry out democracy properly at the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia on Saturday, April 24, 2021. This is because, he said, domestic problems in Myanmar have become regional problems, especially those related to refugees and human rights. Southeast Asia is now in the international spotlight. “The junta can hear the voices of ASEAN countries calling for an end to violence,” Lawi said.
Lawi hopes that the ASEAN leaders are not only present a military junta at the ASEAN Summit. He said regional leaders also needed to hear the voice of Myanmar’s interim government, which was partly still controlled by civilians. This Civilian Government should speak on behalf of citizens and victims of the military junta. “Nobody hears the voice of Myanmar peoples if they just only invited dan to recognize the military as the official government,” Lawi concluded. (Abdus Somad)