Silence As the Loudest War Cry

To mark International Human Rights Day, Myanmar citizens made a point of staying at home to show their opposition against the military junta’s rule, a “Silent strike”, which turned most places in the country into ghost towns. Four days earlier, Aung San Suu Kyi, the 76-year-old de facto leader of Myanmar prior to the February military coup was tried in a closed court with no access to the public. She was found guilty of inciting unrest and violating Covid restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison, now reduced to two. She faces an additional ten politically motivated charges, including for possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies, corruption, and election fraud, carrying a total potential sentence of more than 100 years in prison. Ousted President Win Myint was also sentenced to four years.

To denounce the general oppression and the human rights abuses people have been subjected to, pro-democracy activists organised on December 10th a parallel “Black Campaign” by wearing black clothes. The first Silent strike happened on March 24th, when offices and supermarkets have been closed, roads were free from any cars and banks were boycotted.

Silent strike official posters

On December 10th, the anti-coup movement urged people again to stay indoors, closed their shops, don’t go to the office and don’t take public transport between 10 am and 4 pm. The motto of the campaign was “This is our city, those are our rules. Moving or not is our decision. We will get back the human rights we lost. Silence should be our loudest war cry.” The vast majority of shop owners as

well as online sellers took a day off on Friday.

“I really respect the citizens. The fact that even the busiest cities are silent and switched off the power button shows that the people are not done yet and have not gone cold-blooded. We must fight to the end”, said a local store owner in Yangon. Many different communities took part in the Silent strike, from Civil Disobedience Movement groups to Rohingya and other Muslim communities, students unions and minister workers. One of them said: “We can’t just sit on our chair and watch the people die”. Staying “silent” was the collective choice  to show sorrow for the victims of the post-coup nationwide conflict, as well as avoiding new casualties by limiting the street protests. Through its LIAISON Network, the Embassy of the United states of America in Yangon warned its citizens not to travel around and engage in any outdoor activity on this day given the possible retaliatory and security force response to any demonstration of opposition to the SAC’s rule.

The most recent atrocities have filled people with unfathomable grief and anger. On December 5th, a flash mob morning protest in Yangon’s Kyimyindaing Township was hit by a military vehicle, which knocked down people protesters in a horrific scene which has been filmed and shocked the nation. An unknown number of people have been killed, wounded or arrested. Two days later, another video spread on social media showing 11 villagers who have been tied up and burned to death by military forces in the village of Dontaw, Salingyi township, in Sagaing region.

This only increased the popularity of  the “Click to donate” (C2D) team, which requests people to install an application which automatically turns views of advertisements and videos into cash donations, which are then sent to CDM and PDF groups, only . “We urge all the people who took part in the Silent Strike to support the C2D program even if we know that’s becoming more difficult because of the increasing price of Internet data.” says a team coordinator. On December 7th, the SAC attempted to limit people’s ability to organize, get informed and raise funds for the revolution on the Internet by ordering a sharp rise in phone mobile data as well as Wi-Fi packages.

On the day of the strike, in many parts of the country, soldiers raided closed shops and confiscated diverse items, roamed neighborhoods and markets with their trucks. On the loudspeakers, they threatened people to open their shops or suffer consequences. But no one complied. 

Moe Thway, president of youth political organization Generation Wave, stated: “The fact that we are active in our cities is not because we accept the rule of military council. We are running because we want to run, we are moving because we want to struggle. We are going to show you that you will not give any orders to us and you cannot control us.”

Chris Gunness, director of the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP), advocates for “Min Aung Hlaing to be investigated, arrested and put on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague as the coup could be considered as a crime against humanity”. Since August, Burma’s National Unity Government (NUG) has accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC in prosecuting atrocity crimes committed by state actors since July, 2002.