Illustration by Zharmakhan Nurkhanuly.

“I heard gunshots near my home”: Living in Post-Coup Myanmar

Students from Myanmar share what it is like living amid unrest, violence and oppression as a result of the recent coup.

Mar 20, 2021

Editor’s Note: Due to the volatile political situation in Myanmar, we have used pseudonyms to refer to the students in the article in order to protect their identities.
“Every day, at night, people hit the pots and pans at their homes to show their disapproval of the coup d'etat,” said Maung Khant Phyoe, an NYU Abu Dhabi student from Myanmar. When the conflicts are near my home, I can hear the mobs shouting. Two nights ago, I heard gunshots near my home.”
This is the new normal for Phyoe, who is currently taking online classes from home. The military seized control of the Southeast Asian nation in a coup on Feb. 1, citing voter fraud in the November 2020 general elections which gave civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party a landslide victory.
Aung San Suu Kyi, along with more than 130 officials and lawmakers, was arrested and faces various charges. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is currently detained in an unknown location.
Military leader General Min Aung Hlaing declared a state of emergency for one year and claimed that an election would be held afterward. In the meantime, the ruling junta, called the State Administration Council, is in charge of the country’s governance.
Enraged by the military’s infringement on democratic processes and fearing a return to an oppressive dictatorship, millions of people from all walks of life have taken to the streets to protest the coup, calling for a return to civilian rule and the release of detained leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi.
Photo courtesy of Aung Gyi.
“Every morning, there are motorcycle protests and people marching on the streets raising their voices demanding their rights, democracy and leaders back,” described Aye Aye Myint, another NYUAD student from Myanmar. “At night, we light candles on the streets and chant anthems expressing our disapproval of the illegal government.”
Though the protests and acts of civil disobedience have mostly been peaceful, the military has responded with force. Rights groups have recorded at least a hundred deaths since the protests began in February, though the actual number is thought to be much higher. Footage and images circulating on the internet show police firing shotguns and civilians suffering fatal wounds. One protestor was even shot in the head.
“The junta is using weapons including machine guns against unarmed civilians and this is obviously nothing new for the military. For decades, they’ve been committing similar crimes against ethnic minorities including the Rohingya Muslims and they will no longer hesitate to point their guns at innocent civilians,” Myint explained. “Basically, we see the military as nothing but a group of treasonous terrorists running around the country committing murders like lunatics.”
Phyoe is also struggling to accept the situation. “Initially, I was sad,” they shared. “People fear their loss of freedom [more than] getting Covid-19. Therefore, they went out daily to protest with high hopes. However, after the real bullets are used on people … many people, including me, live through the days with a mix of fear and anger.”
As part of the increased crackdown, the government has limited access to internet and news services.
“Since February, the internet has been cut out countrywide for nine hours every night. Also, a lot of websites are blocked including social media,” Phyoe noted. “This is a huge negative impact on me because I am taking classes remotely and internet connectivity is the most important thing I need.”
They missed an exam due to an unstable internet connection and we had to swap our scheduled Zoom interview for email correspondence.
The military government has since imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. and banned gatherings of more than five people. However, this has not stopped citizens from continuing their fight. Only a few days ago, the brother of Myint's friend was detained for protesting peacefully.
Photo courtesy of Aung Gyi.
“Every day, we go out to the streets in fear even if we’re not protesting and every night, we go to bed feeling unsafe as there’s no rule of law in the country,” Myint lamented. “The so-called police are the ones threatening us and we have no one to turn to. They kill anyone they see on the streets, they break into houses and rob our possessions and they arrest people at night.”
Yet, they noticed a silver lining in this situation: increased empathy for the Rohingyas who have been persecuted by the military. The stateless, predominantly Muslim ethnic group was violently driven out of their homes in the Rakhine state in 2017. Their villages were burned down and many women and girls were raped. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees now live in Bangladeshi camps where conditions are cramped and unsanitary.
“We’re still not even experiencing a tiny bit of what the Rohingyas faced but I finally see so many people apologizing for their negligence and ignorance,” Myint observed. “I’ve never felt this united with my fellow citizens as the Rohingya case used to be a matter better left unspoken or untouched. The [views] on the Rohingyas have finally taken a huge turn.”
Though former state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi received widespread international condemnation for defending the state against genocide allegations, they suggested that perhaps they did so out of fear of retaliation from the military.
“It’s still a topic of debate in Myanmar whether what Aung San Suu Kyi did was right or wrong and if they had a choice or not,” Myint added. “Seen as a mother figure of the country, she still has huge support and love from the citizens.”
Even as both students are heading overseas to pursue their studies at NYUAD, they remain connected to their home country and wish to contribute to its development in the future. “It is quite hard to be optimistic at this time,” Phyoe shared. “However, I do still have hope that the people win and the country [has] a better future where everyone can thrive.”
Charlie Fong is News Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo