Myanmar: What has been happening since the 2021 coup?

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There have been widescale protests, armed resistance and mass killings in Myanmar since the military seized control in February 2021.

Elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to a further five years in jail after she was found guilty of corruption, the latest verdict in a series of secret trials.

Ms Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since the coup.

Where is Myanmar?

Myanmar, previously known as Burma, is in South East Asia. It neighbours Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India.

It has a population of about 54 million, most of whom are Burmese speakers, although other languages are also spoken. The biggest city is Yangon (Rangoon), but the capital is Nay Pyi Taw.

The main religion is Buddhism. There are many ethnic groups in the country, including Rohingya Muslims.

The country gained independence from Britain in 1948. It was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule.

Why is Myanmar also known as Burma?

The ruling military changed the name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. The two words mean the same thing but Myanmar is the more formal version.

Some countries, including the UK, initially refused to use the name as a way of denying the regime’s legitimacy.

But use of “Myanmar” has become increasingly common, and in 2016 Ms Suu Kyi said it did not matter which name was used.

When did the military coup take place?

The military seized control on 1 February 2021 following a general election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.

It had backed the opposition party, which demanded a re-run of the vote claiming widespread fraud.

The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims.

What has happened since the coup?

Opposition activists have formed the Campaign for Civil Disobedience (CDM) and have helped organise strikes and mass protests against the coup.

The military has put them down with live fire, water cannons and rubber bullets.

What started as civil disobedience has now turned into essentially a civil war across Myanmar.

Local militias calling themselves People’s Defence Forces, or PDFs, have attacked military convoys and assassinated officials.

Protesters take cover behind homemade shields as they confront the police during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup in Hlaing Tharyar township in Yangon on March 14, 2021.
Protesters armed with rudimentary weapons take cover from the police in a demonstration in March, 2021

The government has carried out violent reprisals against the PDFs, including the torture and killing of 40 civilians in July 2021 in the opposition stronghold of Sagaing district.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which keeps a toll of those killed, jailed or detained by the military, says 1,503 people have been killed since the military regime came to power.

The US-based organisation Acled, which compiles figures from news reports and publications by human rights organisations, says about 12,000 may have died.

Who is in charge now?

Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken power.

He has long wielded significant political influence, successfully maintaining the power of the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s military – even as the country moved towards democracy.

Min Aung Hlaing, pictured in 2018
Min Aung Hlaing is the leader of the coup

He has received international condemnation and sanctions for his alleged role in the military’s attacks on ethnic minorities.

Gen Hlaing has said the military is on the side of the people and would form a “true and disciplined democracy”.

The military says it will hold a “free and fair” election once the state of emergency is over.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi and why has she been jailed?

Aung San Suu Kyi became world-famous in the 1990s for campaigning to restore democracy. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991.

In 2015, she led the NLD to victory in Myanmar’s first openly-contested election in 25 years.

However, her international reputation suffered greatly as a result of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya minority.

Ms Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since the February 2021 coup.

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint news conference of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan 9 October 2018.

The 76-year-old had already been sentenced to six years in jail for violating the country’s official secrets act, possessing illegal walkie-talkies and publishing information that may “cause fear or alarm”.

She has now been sentenced to a further five years after being found guilty on corruption charges.

Ms Suu Kyi still faces 10 other corruption charges, each carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years.

Her supporters say the charges have been trumped up by the military regime to ensure that Ms Suu Kyi – who remains very popular in Myanmar – is jailed for life.

Civil rights and democracy groups have denounced the trials, as has the UN. Human Rights Watch called them a “circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges”.

What happened to the Rohingya?

Thousands of Rohingya were killed and more than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh following an army crackdown in 2017, while Ms Suu Kyi was the country’s de facto leader.

She appeared before the International Court of Justice in 2019 and denied allegations that the military had committed genocide.

What has the international reaction been to the coup?

The United Nations has warned of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, with “an intensification of violence and a rapid rise in poverty”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused the security forces of a “reign of terror”.

The US, UK and European Union have imposed sanctions on military officials.

China blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup, but has backed calls for a return to democratic norms.

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