Dozens of pro-democracy Buddhist monks gathered today, Saturday, September 25 in the second-largest city in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Mandalay, to protest last February’s military coup d’état in that Asian country, according to international agencies.
The protest takes place on the occasion of the 14th anniversary of the so-called ‘Saffron Revolution’, in a reference to the colour of the robes of the monks who led, in September 2007, pro-democracy protests in Burmese territory.
At the time, the protests, consisting mainly of peaceful marches, were violently repressed by the military junta that held power at the time.
More than a decade later, and after a democratic break, Myanmar finds itself again in a climate of crisis since the military coup of February 1 this year, which toppled the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar’s army justified the coup d’état with alleged electoral fraud during the November 2020 legislative elections, the result of which was the victory of the National League for Democracy, a political force led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since then, Myanmar has found itself in a situation of chaos, with the economy paralysed and the scene of demonstrations and disturbances heavily repressed by the military forces and the Burmese police.
According to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP), the repression of the Burmese opposition left more than 1,100 dead (civilians) and around 8,400 people were arbitrarily detained.
Historically in Myanmar, a country with a Buddhist majority, monks are seen as a higher moral authority, playing an important role in communities and sometimes expressing strong opposition to military regimes.
The military coup in February raised divisions within the Burmese monastic community, with some prominent clerics supporting the generals of the military junta, while other monks sided with the opposition and pro-democracy protests.
“The monks who love the truth are on the side of the people,” said one of the organizers of the demonstration that took place today in Mandalay, recognized as the country’s religious capital.
Armed with banners and flags, the monks chanted slogans calling for the release of political prisoners, including members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.
“We must take risks […] to protest because we can be arrested or shot down at any time. We are no longer safe in our monasteries,” said a 35-year-old monk who told AFP and participated in the protest.
In recent months, the Burmese military forces and police have even fired live bullets, in addition to using tear gas, rubber bullets and shock grenades, to repress pro-democracy demonstrations in the country.