Beyond the Headlines: ‘We will win,’ say Myanmar youth in creative solo protests against military

Junta affairs

Two Mandalay Region government ministers detained after the February 2021 military coup were released last week after completing sentences handed down by junta-controlled courts, according to legal sources familiar with their cases. Soe Than, the region’s minister for agriculture, livestock and irrigation, was released on November 8, and Myo Thit, the minister for natural resources and environmental conservation, was freed two days later. Both were from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) administration.

Soe Than was given a two-year sentence under Myanmar’s Natural Disaster Management Law for organising an event before the coup in violation of Covid-19 restrictions. Myo Thit was charged with incitement under Section 505b of the Penal Code for proclaiming every day a holiday until the NLD government returns to power. He was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Meanwhile, ousted Mandalay city mayor Ye Lwin and municipal committee member Kyaw Zeya remain in custody despite also completing two-year sentences for incitement in November. Both were handed additional charges of “breach of trust” for the alleged mishandling of government funds and face life sentences if convicted.

Mandalay Region’s minister for natural resources and environmental conservation, Myo Thit, is seen on February 17, 2021 at the Chanayethazan Township court (Myanmar Now)

Armed resistance

Regime forces launched arson attacks on at least eight villages in Myaung Township, Sagaing Region, on November 7, one day after local guerrilla fighters ambushed and seized a junta vessel travelling upstream along the Chindwin River and loaded with military rations. Members of the Civil Defence and Security Organisation of Myaung (CDSOM), a resistance coalition based in Sagaing and neighbouring Magway Region, attacked the vessel, which departed from Mandalay with 15,000 bags of rice intended for junta soldiers. 

The ambush occurred near the village of Na Nwin Kaing on the Chindwin’s eastern bank; the townships of Myaung and Salingyi in Sagaing and Yesagyo in Magway Region are located in the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers.

Members of the resistance alliance later distributed the confiscated rice to locals, a CDSOM representative said. The next day, around 300 Myanmar army troops based in Yesagyo launched raids on villages near the confluence, each home to 400-600 households. Among them was Na Nwin Kaing, where the soldiers torched some 300 homes, and a woman in her 60s was reportedly killed. Residents of the area fled and have since been sheltering in monasteries in other nearby communities.

Political parties

Hla Swe, a former fugitive and an ex-lawmaker from the military-proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party was appointed chair of the party’s branch in capital Naypyitaw after a series of shuffles within the party last month. The 62-year-old firebrand nationalist and retired lieutenant colonel, who is also known as Bullet Hla Swe, spent less than two months in prison under the NLD government. He turned himself in to the authorities in December 2020 after spending more than a year in hiding from a sedition charge. It was put forward by the administration after an August 2019 speech in which he said it would be “great” if senior members of the NLD died in bombing attacks. He was released by the military in the wake of the coup in February 2021. Most recently, he organised a rally in front of Yangon City Hall in which he spoke in support of the regime’s execution of four pro-democracy activists in late July. 

Hla Swe attends a protest opposing American sanctions against top military leaders on August 3, 2019 in Yangon (Myanmar Now)

Urban violence

Two regime targets were attacked with explosives in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon on the evening of November 13, according to a police source. A military vehicle that was patrolling the streets of Hlaing Township was hit in a blast at around 7:30pm, wounding two junta soldiers: a corporal and a private. The source said that the troops sustained injuries to the head, chest and legs, and were admitted to a defence hospital in Mingalardon Township. A civilian who was near the site of the attack also suffered minor injuries caused by shrapnel and was brought to Yangon General Hospital. No group had claimed responsibility for the attack at the time of reporting. On the same evening, a building housing members of the police force in industrial suburban Hlaing Tharyar Township in Yangon was also attacked with explosives, but further details concerning injuries or potential casualties were not known. An urban guerrilla group called War of Hunter Revolution Force claimed to have targeted the building. 


Kawlin Township judge Brang Seng (Facebook)

A township court in Sagaing Region’s Kawlin Township was attacked in a parcel bomb on the morning of November 11 and a 31-year-old judge was killed, according to a member of a resistance group that carried out the attack and operates under the command of the Kawlin People’s Defence Force (PDF). He said that they had hidden an explosive in a gift basket and sent it to the courthouse, detonating it after the judge, Brang Seng, placed it in his car. Other staff at the courthouse were also injured in the explosion, he said. The judge was originally from Myitkyina in Kachin State and is survived by three young children, according to local media.


Amid tight security in Yangon, members of the anti-regime resistance group Yangon Revolution Force (YRF) staged flash mob-style solo protests across the city on November 13 by briefly displaying anti-dictatorship slogans printed in paint on the inside layer of their folded longyis. The YRF said in a statement later that day that the “performances” reflected the sentiments of the general public who are prohibited from expressing opposition to the junta. The youth performances, which were photographed, attracted attention because of the creativity and risk involved as the military continues to respond to dissent with violence. 

It was not the first time Yangon youth have carried out novel forms of protest. On August 8, the 34th anniversary of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, several young people displayed four umbrellas on which the number eight had been printed. Opened side by side to read as 8-8-88—or August 8, 1988—the umbrellas were photographed near a number of key landmarks in Yangon as a silent protest against last year’s coup. One of the protesters and a freelance photographer who documented their act of resistance were arrested later that month. 

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