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Anti-junta teachers still 130,000-strong

More than 130,000 teachers remain a part of Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement, or CDM, made up of government employees who have walked off the job to protest the military’s February 2021 coup d’etat, the country’s shadow government said Thursday.

Speaking at an event to mark World Teachers’ Day, National Unity Government Minister of Health and Education Zaw Wei Soe said that CDM teachers have continued to make significant contributions to the resistance, despite a growing number of hardships since the movement boasted more than 200,000 teachers in the days immediately following the takeover.

“For almost three years, these teachers have been participating in the CDM as part of the Spring Revolution without taking a single penny of salary,” he said. “There are still more than 130,000 CDM teachers who have helped to limit the effectiveness of the terrorist military regime.”

While some teachers left the CDM due to social and economic pressures, others cited safety concerns as they saw the junta increasingly arrest, jail and kill their colleagues. In some cases, teachers said they did not receive as much support from the NUG and anti-junta groups as they expected. By some estimates, thousands of teachers left the CDM when schools reopened for the year in June 2022 and 2023.

In the years since the coup, the National Unity Government, or NUG – made up of former civilian leaders and anti-junta activists – has launched more than 70 classes online and over 5,000 basic education schools, NUG Acting President Duwa Lashi La said at the event, despite the military’s “deliberate targeting of the education sector.”

“[The junta] has been committing inhuman crimes such as launching indiscriminate airstrikes and arson attacks on schools or and arresting, torturing and killing their teachers,” he said.

The junta has said that teachers, parents, and students who attend NUG schools, as well as those who provide financial support, face “serious action.”

Hundreds of thousands of families have pulled their children out of state-run schools since the military seized power in favor of “self-help” schools set up by the CDM, the NUG and anti-junta People’s Defense Force, or PDF, paramilitary groups.

Attacks on self-help schools

Amid an ongoing junta offensive against the PDF and ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar’s remote border regions, attacks on villages have led to injuries and even deaths at self-help schools. Even when the schools don’t face the threat of conflict, teachers and students are often forced to attend classes in makeshift conditions and lack access to critical education resources.

The NUG’s message on World Teachers’ Day stood in stark contrast to that of junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who urged Myanmar’s youth to obtain an education “in order to establish a peaceful future society” and called for more “good teachers to produce such youths.” 

There is a long tradition of teachers and students assuming an outsized role in the struggle against dictatorship in Myanmar.

In 1988, under the rule of strongman General Ne Win, a student-led anti-dictatorship movement boiled into a nationwide uprising following the regime’s announcement banning 25-, 35- and 75-kyat bills from circulation and later the killing of a university student by police.

The nationwide uprising, which peaked on Aug. 8 of that year, became a historic milestone that united Myanmar’s various ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, and other communities against the then-ruling junta.

CDM couple detained

In the latest example of persecution that CDM participants face, RFA learned that junta authorities in the northern Sagaing region arrested a married couple of public servants.

Myanmar authorities have arrested Aung San Win and his wife, Myo Su Thet, government employees who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement. Credit: Facebook/Myo Su Thet
Myanmar authorities have arrested Aung San Win and his wife, Myo Su Thet, government employees who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement. Credit: Facebook/Myo Su Thet

On Sept. 30, junta troops in Sagaing city’s Sein Kone ward arrested Aung San Win, 37, and his wife Myo Su Thet, 35, who are junior engineers for Sagaing’s Road Department, residents told RFA. Four days later, authorities had their home sealed off.

“Maybe they were arrested because the junta wanted their family member, or they joined the CDM,” said one resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. “This morning, the house was sealed off.”

While the reason for their arrest was not immediately clear, pro-junta channels on social media platform Telegram claimed that they had “contacted the PDF,” which the regime has labeled a terrorist group.

The couple are currently being held at the Sagaing police station, residents said.

Calls by RFA to Sai Naing Naing Kyaw, the junta’s spokesperson for Sagaing region, seeking more information on the arrest went unanswered Thursday.

According to Thailand’s Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (Burma), nearly 20,000 people arrested since the coup remain behind bars for their political activities.

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.