Myanmar Military Used Coup To Settle Old Scores

Myanmar’s people woke up to their worst nightmare on February 1, 2021: the return of military rule after nearly a decade of relative freedom. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint’s arrest before dawn marked the end of a brief era of the elected government and set the stage for the massive demonstrations and brutal crackdowns that followed.
The country’s civilian leaders were not the only ones detained that day. Many others were also taken into custody, not because they posed an immediate threat to the coup makers, but because they had displeased them in the past.
Aung Hlaing, who orchestrated the military’s return to direct control over the state, moved swiftly to punish perceived enemies, locking them up even before they could protest. Besides activists and politicians, he also targeted celebrities, monks, and other public figures who questioned the army’s right to rule.
Before the coup, some had already been marked for revenge. As a result of their criticism of the military or its bigoted henchmen, they were among the first to be silenced when it was time to settle scores.
Others, however, were arrested without any legal basis at all. There was no evidence of wrongdoing ever presented against them, as there was no evidence of voter fraud that served as a pretext for the military takeover.
In each case, all that mattered was the attitude of the alleged offenders toward the class of men who consider themselves Myanmar’s natural rulers.
The following profiles offer a glimpse into the thinking of the generals and what they fear most-the prospect of losing power to those who refuse to fear them.

Mya Aye
The veteran activist, Mya Aye, who played an important role in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, was taken away from his home on the morning of the coup and held incommunicado for two months. His family learned that he was being held in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison only on April 1.
After finally discovering where Mya Aye was, they became dismayed when they discovered that he had been charged with hate speech in violation of section 505c of the Penal Code, which deals with crimes against any group or individual because of their ethnic or religious background.
As well as being a prominent Muslim politician, Mya Aye worked to end tensions between the country’s various religious groups.
A potential prison sentence of two years is attached to the charges stemming from an email sent from his mobile phone in November 2014. At the time, he was working for the ethnic affairs department of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, led by former student leader Min Ko Naing.
It discussed Burman ethnonationalism and the need for cooperation among the country’s ethnic groups to achieve true federalism in the email about Myanmar’s peace process.
It was only for the sake of the country that he sent that email. His lawyer, Thet Naung, said the email sent in 2014 did not cause conflicts between ethnicities, races, or countries.
Mya Aye had been on the army’s radar since 1988, when he was a teacher coordinating the efforts of young leaders.
“We were student leaders and he was the party chairman. “We usually met at his party’s office, which was essentially a rebel hideout,” recalled former political prisoner Tun Kyi.
He only sent that email for the sake of the country. There were no ethnic or racial conflicts resulting from that email sent in 2014 – he remained politically active and often courted the military’s ire.
Mya Aye described the generals’ threat to seize power again as an act of intimidation and foretold the consequences of such an action.
A coup would be detrimental to the country. The international community would look down on us. It’s a losing battle for everyone, including the military, the people, the winning party, all of us,” he said.
Those familiar with Mya Aye’s career know he has spoken truth to power.
Tun Kyi said of the country’s dictators, “They know who their enemies are.” “They view activists and politicians who stand against them as their enemies, and they hold a grudge against them.”

Thura Aung Ko
Thura Aung Ko’s journey from high office to a prison cell was long and unlikely. Even a year before his arrest, it was clear that the former army general and government minister was a marked man.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun, who expressed his opinion that Wirathu was still at large because of the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs rather than the civilian government, called on the NLD administration to “take action” against him for defamation in February 2020.
Aung Ko, a retired brigadier general who once served as deputy minister for religious affairs under the former junta, began falling out of favor with military leaders long before this incident.
Aung Ko was one of the key holdovers from the military regime that held power until 2011 when Myanmar transitioned to quasi-civilian rule under retired general Thein Sein.
As a prominent member of the military-backed USDP, he was elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw, or lower house, in 2010 and appointed chair of a judicial and legislative review committee. At that time, he called for the suspension of a clause in the constitution that barred then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, a break with the military’s position on the matter.
Thura Aung Ko played a major role in disbanding the notorious ultranationalist group Ma Ba Tha (EPA) during her tenure as minister of religion.
Thura Aung Ko played a major role in disbanding the notorious ultranationalist group Ma Ba Tha (EPA) during her tenure as minister of religion.
Aung Ko also found himself on bad terms with the USDP in August 2015 when Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the Union parliament, was removed as party chair by a faction that felt he had grown too close to Suu Kyi. Both former generals, who shared the “though” title that symbolizes courage in battle, were seen as allies who threatened to weaken the army’s hold over Myanmar politics.
Aung Ko was appointed minister of religion and culture by the NLD after it won a landslide victory in the 2015 election despite losing his seat in parliament. In July 2017, he played an important role in shutting down the ultranationalist group Ma Ba Tha, led by fiery monk Wirathu.
Wirathu remained active after this, but he was eventually prosecuted for sedition. Just days before the 2020 election, he turned himself in to police after being on the run for more than a year. (Imprisoned by the NLD, he was released by the junta earlier this month.)
More than a month after his arrest on the day of the coup, Aung Ko was charged with corruption for allegedly awarding religious titles to individuals in exchange for bribes.
Currently being held in Insein Prison, the 74-year-old former general faces 15 years in prison for displeasure.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is familiar with the generals’ vindictiveness as a documentary filmmaker. He was released from prison a year ago after serving a one-year sentence for criticizing the military’s 2008 constitution and its role in politics in Facebook posts.
It was reported in April 2019 that Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was charged with incitement under section 505a of the Penal Code for making derogatory remarks. Despite having liver cancer, he was repeatedly denied bail during his incarceration, but was eventually released in February 2020 after receiving routine sentence reductions.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi has been outspoken in his criticism of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Ma Ba Tha, a Buddhist nationalist organization that actively promoted anti-Muslim sentiments.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), also played a significant role in his decision. This was demonstrated by him auctioning off a poem written by Suu Kyi for 240m kyat (nearly $145,000) and donating the proceeds to her party.
Because of the ruling junta that ruled the country until 2011, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was unable to screen any of his early work in Myanmar.
Inle Lake in Shan State and his first film, Human Zoo, which examines the exploitation of the Padaung people known for their “long necks,” have both been well-received overseas, but weren’t available for public viewing due to censorship in Thailand.
In the early days of Myanmar’s partial opening a decade ago, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi organized events to bring his own work and that of others to Myanmar audiences. Zarganar, a comedian and fellow director who was also known as an outspoken opponent of military rule, collaborated with him for the first, the Art of Freedom Film Festival.
The Human Dignity Institute, which produces documentaries and short films about human rights, was founded shortly after the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival.
The ideals he has espoused as an artist and the passion he has instilled in young filmmakers cannot be contained – Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s colleague
His colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, said that many young filmmakers owe their start to Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi. Through them and his own films, he continues to influence public discourse in Myanmar even as a prisoner of the junta.
Despite the fascist regime’s success [in detaining] Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, his creative ideals and the fascination he has generated in the minds of younger filmmakers cannot be contained and will not be silenced, said the colleague.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, 59, and his former collaborator Zarganar, 60, are currently being held in Insein Prison, along with many others considered a threat to the regime.

Htin Lin Oo
Author and former NLD information officer Htin Lin Oo recorded a nine-minute live broadcast on social media to denounce the military’s actions as he awaited his arrest on February 1. He said he would always oppose the dictatorship, no matter what.
“I do not oppose the army. I oppose the dictators who staged the coup. In his final public statement before being taken away, he said, “We civilians must rise up and revolt against the dictatorship.”
Htin Lin Oo accused the generals of destroying democracy in its infancy. He said every time they staged a coup, they pushed the country decades behind the rest of the world, as they did in 1962 and 1988.
Myanmar’s newly appointed leaders were not pleased with these remarks. His online comments were used to charge him with incitement and spreading false news on social media after he was arrested without charges.
Htin Lin Oo, like many others arrested that day, had a history of displeasure with the military. During a speech in Magway Region’s Chaung Oo Township in October 2014, he accused the army of using religion to create conflict and maintain control.
A 10-minute excerpt from his two-hour speech was posted widely online and portrayed as an attack on Buddhism, the majority religion of Myanmar. His remarks proved so controversial that even his own party distanced itself from them.
At the time, the military-backed USDP was in power and the Patriotic Association of Myanmar (the Buddhist nationalist group better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha) was at the height of its influence. It came as no surprise, then, when Htin Lin Oo was sentenced to two years with hard labor for allegedly violating sections 295a and 298 of the Penal Code, which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” and speaking “with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings”.
We’re not afraid of anything because we haven’t done anything wrong – Htin Lin Oo’s wife
After his release, Htin Lin Oo resumed his efforts to push the military out of politics, organizing public discussions on amending the military-drafted constitution and founding a weekly journal, D Lann, that raised related issues.
His wife, Saw Sandar, said that the regime arrested Htin Lin Oo because it fears anyone who can lead the public.
“It’s not fair, but we have the courage to face this. We’re not afraid of anything because we haven’t done anything wrong,” she said, adding that her only real worry is that her husband will fall victim to Covid-19 while behind bars.
“What’s important is to stay healthy, especially when the pandemic is getting worse inside the prisons. That’s the only thing I’m worried about,” she told Myanmar Now.

Min Thway Thit
If he hadn’t been arrested on the day of the coup, Min Thway Thit would likely have been at the forefront of the anti-dictatorship movement. The 38-year-old activist and former political prisoner has long played a leading role in resisting military oppression.
He first came to prominence in 2014 during student protests against a new national education law introduced by the quasi-civilian administration of then President Thein Sein. During a violent crackdown on protests in Letpadan, Bago Region, in March 2015, he was one of more than 100 people arrested and imprisoned. The charges against him were eventually dropped, however, when the NLD assumed power a year later.
Former student leader Min Thway Thit was arrested before he could join nationwide protests against the February 1 coup (Yadanar Su Po Khaing/ Facebook)
Former student leader Min Thway Thit was arrested before he could join nationwide protests against the February 1 coup (Yadanar Su Po Khaing/ Facebook)
More recently, the former associate secretary of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and founder of the Oway Library and Education Charity (Thanlyin) led a volunteer group established in Yangon’s Thanlyin Township to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Min Thway Thit was detained for a full month before the regime released any information about him to his family. His wife, Yadanar Su Po Khaing, told VOA’s Burmese-language service in an interview that she wasn’t able to send him any medicine or other necessities until early March when she first learned that he was being held in Insein Prison.
He now faces charges of violating vehicle-licensing regulations under Section 95 of the Vehicle Safety and Vehicle Management Act, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. However, according to his wife, he has refused to take part in the proceedings against him because he has no confidence in the impartiality of the junta’s judiciary.
The most common crime committed by those arrested on February 1 was supporting the NLD, the party that won two successive landslide victories against the military’s proxy party, the USDP. Anyone tied to the NLD, either as a leading member or as an outspoken supporter, was fair game for a regime determined to silence the military’s most potent rival for power.
Surprisingly, perhaps, only a handful of NLD-appointed ministers have come under sustained pressure. Apart from State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, the only senior figures from the Union government still in custody are Soe Win, the ousted minister of planning and finance, his vice minister Set Aung, and his predecessor Kyaw Win.
Soe Win, the ousted government’s planning and finance minister, is one of the few Union-level politicians still behind bars (Global New Light of Myanmar)
Soe Win, the ousted government’s planning and finance minister, is one of the few Union-level politicians still behind bars (Global New Light of Myanmar)
At the regional and municipal levels of government, however, a number of other senior officials have also been targeted by the junta. In early July, Mandalay’s chief minister, Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, and the region’s minister for electricity, energy, and construction, Zarni Aung, were charged with corruption, more than five months after their arrest.
Similar charges, made in connection with alleged illegal deals involving Aung San Suu Kyi, have also been laid against Naypyitaw’s former mayor, Dr. Myo Aung, and deputy mayor, Ye Min Oo, as well as Min Thu, a member of the city’s development committee.
Of the monks who were arrested on February 1, Ven. Pyinya Thiha, better known as Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw, was perhaps the most outspoken backer of the NLD. In 2011, long before the party came to power, he was banned from giving public sermons after he commemorated the 20th anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
The abbot of Mandalay’s Myawaddy Mingyi monastery, Ven. Ariyawuntha Biwunsa (also known as Myawaddy Sayadaw), had also earned the military’s ire in the past. In late 2019, he was sued for defamation after he accused the armed forces of supporting ultranationalist monks. He was out on bail when he was arrested on the day of the coup.
In an interview with Myanmar Now following his release from Mandalay’s Obo Prison last month, he dismissed the junta’s claims that the NLD was bad for Myanmar’s Buddhist monks and repeated his charge that the military was trying to “exploit the people in the name of religion.”
Ven. Thawbita, one of the leaders of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, was taken away from his monastery in Patheingyi, east of Mandalay, in handcuffs on the morning of February 1. Two days later, he was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty under Section 66d of Myanmar’s draconian Telecommunications Law for an online comment he wrote more than two years earlier facetiously comparing Min Aung Hlaing to a cow.
As if to prove their utter humourlessness, the generals also went after a pair of prominent satirists on the day they seized power. One was Maung Thar Cho, who wrote satirical articles for the 7Day daily newspaper under the pseudonym of Jack (Kunchan Kone). These pieces proved immensely popular and earned him a following among NLD supporters, who invited him to literary talks around the country.
They were kidnapped and now they are political hostages. The junta chief will use them to ease international pressure
The other was Saw Phoe Khwar, an ethnic Kayin reggae musician who performed at NLD campaign events during last year’s election. Famous for his peace concerts, he is also well-known for his use of wit to skewer the military.
“The Son of Daw Sein Aye,” one of his most popular songs, plays on the name of the Defence Services Academy (DSA), the elite institution that produced most of Myanmar’s top military leaders. Ostensibly about an unruly man who makes trouble for his neighbors, it clearly refers to the DSA’s proudest alumni. Since the coup, it has become a popular protest song.
Since his arrest on February 1, Saw Phoe Khwar’s satirical takes on military behavior have become popular protest songs (Saw Phoe Khwar/ Facebook)
Since his arrest on February 1, Saw Phoe Khwar’s satirical takes on military behavior have become popular protest songs (Saw Phoe Khwar/ Facebook)
Whatever reasons were given for their arrest, most of those detained on February 1 is likely to remain in the junta’s custody until it becomes politically expedient to release them.
Locked up for offending the generals, they are now just pawns in their game, according to former political prisoner Tun Kyi.
“They were kidnapped and now they are political hostages. The junta chief will use them to ease international pressure. They may be released, but they won’t be free, because they could be arrested again at any time. That’s just how it was done under previous regimes, too,” he explained.

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