Myanmar’s military has been using deadly force against demonstrators protesting the February 1 coup, when democratically elected civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint were removed from office and arrested. The bloodshed reached a new level on March 14, when almost forty protestors were killed in Yangon and martial law was imposed. As of this writing, nearly 150 people have been murdered since the coup, and thousands more have been arrested in cities and townships across the country.
The coup was orchestrated by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who has long had a rocky relationship with Suu Kyi and was reportedly worried that she might investigate the sources of a fortune meant to support his plush retirement. He baselessly declared her party’s landslide reelection in November 2020 the result of fraud, named himself acting president, and has since charged her with the crimes of owning illegally imported walkie-talkies and accepting bribes of $600,000 and 11 kilograms of gold (the latter accusation remains unsubstantiated). Suu Kyi, of course, is intimately familiar with Myanmar’s history of military violence and oppression. She was a leading figure of the opposition during a long period of military rule in the late twentieth century, and spent a total of fifteen years under house arrest between 1988 and 2010. When she wasn’t being detained, she traveled the country advocating for peaceful democratic reform. For these efforts, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. When Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won the country’s first competitive elections in 2015, she became Myanmar’s “state counsellor,” the country’s de-facto civilian leader (she was barred by the military from officially serving as president). To many Burmese people, “the Lady” (or sometimes “Mother Suu”) is an icon, and their continued devotion to her is evident in the current protests.