Here’s what you need to know about the situation.
Why did the Myanmar military seize power?
The military justified its takeover by alleging widespread voter fraud during the November 2020 general election, which gave Suu Kyi’s party another overwhelming victory.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) performed dismally in the poll, dashing hopes among some of its military backers that it might take power democratically — or at least get to pick the next president. The military then claimed — without providing evidence — there were more than 10.5 million cases of “potential fraud, such as non-existent voters” and called on the election commission to publicly release the final polling data.
The commission rejected those claims of voter fraud.
It was only the second democratic vote since the previous junta began a series of reforms in 2011, following half a century of brutal military rule that plunged Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, into poverty and isolationism.
Why is Myanmar protesting?
The demonstrations, especially those taking up positions on the front lines behind barricades, are dominated by young people who have grown up with a level of democracy and political and economic freedoms their parents or grandparents didn’t have, which they are unwilling to give up.
Meanwhile, a civil disobedience movement has seen thousands of white- and blue-collar workers, from medics, bankers and lawyers to teachers, engineers and factory workers, leave their jobs as a form of resistance against the coup.
How is the military responding?
In recent weeks, the military has stepped up its response to the protests. Footage and images on social media show crumpled bodies laying in pools of blood on the streets and young protesters clad in flimsy plastic helmets crouching for cover from police bullets behind makeshift shields.
Amnesty International said the military is using increasingly lethal tactics and weapons normally seen on the battlefield against peaceful protesters and bystanders. Battle-hardened troops — documented to have committed human rights abuses in conflict areas — have been deployed to the streets, Amnesty said. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said the military’s “brutal response” to peaceful protests is “likely meeting the legal threshold for crimes against humanity.”
Under the cover of a nightly internet blackout, security forces go door to door in nighttime raids, pulling people from their homes. Many of those arbitrarily detained are kept out of contact from family and friends, their condition or whereabouts unknown.
At least four of the deaths in recent days were individuals arrested and detained by the junta, including two officials from the ousted NLD party. All four died in custody, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Family and activist groups alleged the two NLD officials were tortured.
Despite the danger, thousands of young protesters have continued to defy the military and take to the streets each day, and local reporters and citizens journalists continue to risk their lives by livestreaming and documenting the crackdown.
“The MPF is doing its work in accordance with democracy practices and the measures it is taking are even softer than the ones in other countries,” he said.
What has happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?
Suu Kyi was once celebrated as an international democracy icon. A former political prisoner, she spent 15 years under house arrest as part of a decades-long struggle against military rule.
Her release in 2010 and election victory five years later were lauded by Western governments as landmark moments in the country’s transition to democratic rule after 50 years of military regimes.
Suu Kyi has not been seen by the public or her lawyers since she was detained. The ousted President Win Myint has also been detained since the coup and faces similar charges.
Officials with the ruling NLD have either been arrested or gone into hiding since the coup. A group of former NLD lawmakers have formed a kind of parallel civilian parliament — called the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) — and are pushing for international recognition as the rightful government.
What is the UN doing?
Protesters, activists and civilians have pleaded for the international community to intervene and protect Burmese people from the military’s attacks.
China has not outright condemned the military takeover, but in comments following the Security Council agreement, UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said “it is important the Council members speak in one voice. We hope the message of the Council would be conducive to easing the situation in Myanmar.”
Following the burning of Chinese-owned factories in Yangon this week, China has taken a more aggressive tone. The Chinese Embassy in Myanmar said “China urges Myanmar to take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar,” according to Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.
Many in Myanmar are becoming frustrated with mere words of condemnation and are demanding more meaningful action.
A group of 137 nongovernmental organizations from 31 countries have called on the UN Security Council to urgently impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar.
Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, has urged member states “to deny recognition of the military junta as the legitimate government.” He also called for an end to the flow of revenue and weapons to the junta, saying multilateral sanctions “should be imposed” on senior leaders, military-owned and controlled enterprises and the state energy firm, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.