The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, September 15, 2021 1:00 am

Deadly implications

Myanmar freedom fighters' hide and seek keeps dream of democracy alive

Naing Khit

Myanmar is increasingly becoming a nation underground. You could almost call it a nationwide game of hide and seek.

But, of course, this game has potentially fatal consequences. Being found means arrest, torture and even death.

It has been many months since I went into hiding. Those who have experienced it will agree with what I am going to say here: There is no such thing as the perfect hideout. They know, as I do, that no one feels truly safe in any hideout, no matter how well chosen.

I have discovered, however, that these worry-filled days all have one reliably good moment: the minute one wakes in the morning.

I feel relief to the point of bliss upon waking up in my bed to the realization that I have made it through one more night without being arrested – that I still find myself a free person.

Here in Myanmar, I am not alone in my plight. It has become the daily reality for so many people across the country over the past seven months, since the military suddenly seized power from an elected government on Feb. 1.

The list of targeted groups is quite extensive – dissidents, anti-regime protesters, young resistance fighters, critics and journalists, civil servants participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement, doctors and teachers, famous actors and actresses, artists and singers, and too many more to name.

Their family members – wives and husbands, children and other relatives – are also often targeted for arrest, held as hostages by the regime. The one thing they have in common is that they are all active against the regime in some way.

They have all gone into hiding to escape being arrested arbitrarily, hideously tortured, slapped with irrational charges, handed lengthy terms of imprisonment and even killed.

Physically and mentally, hiding from the junta's deadly squads is an experience like no other.

This is not the thrill of wondering whether you'll evade discovery that one remembers from childhood games.

It's a feeling of constant dread.

The number of people who have gone into hiding or fled their homes is likely very significant, at least in the thousands but possibly in the hundreds of thousands if we include everyone who has some reason to evade persecution by the regime.

The military regime has arrested more than 1,000 people a month, or more than 30 people every day, on average.

Manhunt operations have become a nightly routine almost everywhere across Myanmar under the military regime.

So, finding a safe hideout is crucial. If you can't hide securely, it could cost you your life.

Hiding in conflict zones is another level of ordeal. Since late March, in all regions and states of the country except Rakhine State, tens of thousands of villagers have had to flee their homes after clashes between civilian resistance fighters and regime troops.

Myanmar has suffered numerous dark eras, especially under the military and authoritarian dictatorships that have existed since 1962, but it is doubtful there have ever been so many people hiding in so many places.

To kill the democracy the majority of Myanmar's people are fighting for, the junta has to kill democracy activists and defenders, or at least their strong spirits.

To do this, the regime's troops are unearthing these dedicated people from their hideouts every night. That's their deadly duty; ours is to keep ourselves free and alive. But that's not our ultimate aim.

Day to day, we hide in order to survive as free individuals. But there is a larger goal, a higher reason: to continue the struggle to rid Myanmar of the present military regime, and to end the system of dictatorship once and for all.

Perhaps there are many others like me, sitting in their hideouts across this country, anxiously hoping they wake up tomorrow morning as free people.

That's why we persevere.


Naing Khit, a resident of Myanmar, is a commentator on political affairs. This was originally published in The Irrawaddy, an independent news website reporting on Myanmar. It is republished in an edited form with permission from The Irrawaddy.

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