Using live rounds, rubber bullets and stun grenades, Myanmar security forces have taken a harder line on anti-coup protesters over the past week. At least 22 people have now been killed since the military takeover on Feb. 1, with 18 reported dead on Sunday alone.
Dr. Aye Nyein Thu, 25, has been on the front lines of the demonstrations in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city and the scene of some of the worst violence.
She spoke to VICE World News about her experiences over the course of one day—Feb. 20—at a protest last month near a shipyard. She attended to a protester named Yar Zar Aung, who was arrested mid-treatment while wounded and later died in custody. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On that day, I was with an emergency team [of volunteers]. Around 3:30PM, the water cannon started firing. Then the security forces started beating people and then opened fire using teargas. They even beat a lady who was just watching the scene from her house.
Monks nearby were also hiding. Some people were trying to take cover under a vehicle. I witnessed one guy get shot in his chest, another get grazed on his hand, and another one hit on the leg which was almost cut off. At least ten got injured from the shootings in the area where I was. But there could be more on another side of the site.
“I witnessed one guy get shot in his chest, another get grazed on his hand, and another one hit on the leg which was almost cut off.”
I was told that two injured people were in a prison van. When we arrived there, the police told the injured people to come out. The first one had been hit on the head and was bleeding significantly. His hands and legs were also injured. I told the police to release him as he seriously needs proper treatment. But the police denied the request. So I told him to give me 15 minutes to get my colleagues and perform a small operation in the van.
The police didn’t let me do it and even said, “hurry up, and there’s another one in the van.” I cleaned the first victim’s head with disinfectant, removed some hair and gave him some medicine. Then another person [Yar Zar Aung] came out of the van. I saw blood flowing from a gunshot wound on his leg. It was a serious wound. I asked the police if this was a rubber bullet or not. An officer replied that it was a rubber bullet.
I doubt that. But I didn’t want to argue with them anymore. I again asked the police if they could release him. Police said no. I was told that they will take care of him as they have their own doctor. I was begging them to release him so he could get proper treatment. But it was not successful.
So I tried right there to stop the blood flow and got him a bandage. Then I told him if they were bringing him to the army doctor, please explain to the doctor what had happened to him. I also told him if he feels dizzy or has trouble breathing to ask for help.
“I was begging them to release him so he could get proper treatment. But it was not successful.”
I was crying when I was giving them treatment. I was worried. Moments later, the van drove away. But I couldn't stop crying. A female police officer came and gave me a tissue and a bottle of water.
I feel like I am in a war.
When I treated the men in the prison van, one police officer asked me to help him as he had a small abrasion. I told him, “I can't give you treatment.” I might have changed my mind, but in this case, his injury was not that serious.
For me, I am not even joining the protests while wearing medical rescue suits. I know I have to be ethical. I do not even show the three-finger protest salute [while wearing medical attire].
The security forces should let us do our work, and they shouldn't keep the injured persons in the van. They should be aware of the situation. Security forces always say they are following orders. Even if they were ordered to shoot, they should not shoot at the head.
*After one of the men she treated, Yar Zar Aung, was reported dead on Feb. 24 and Aye Nyein Thu confirmed it with his family, she wrote on her Facebook page: “I want to go back to that time and take the two of them by force from the police. I feel guilty for not doing it.”