Khing Hnin Wai just wanted to dance on a Monday morning at the Royal Lotus Roundabout in Yangon, Myanmar. As she danced in place, the road to Myanmar’s Presidential Palace and Parliament behind her, a convoy of armored vehicles rolled through a roadblock behind her. She had accidentally captured a military coup on camera.
It was a surreal image. A woman in bright yellow clothes, wearing a mask, danced over electronic music. Her routine is practiced and she moves in time with the music, an electronic horn dooting as armored vehicles appear in the scene. Khing never breaks, unaware of the coup playing out behind her.
February 1 was supposed to be the first day of a new government in Myanmar, but the military took over the government in a coup. It announced its intentions on its television station then deployed a mix of police and soldiers to secure parliament. Head of state Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest and the military has said it will take control for one year.
Myanmar is not a country people in the west know a lot about. Aung San’s relationship to the military is complicated, the reasons for the coup and its methods are in dispute, and no one is really sure what’s going on.
The video seemed too surreal to be true, and people on the internet began to speculate it was faked. People online speculated that the shadows in the image were wrong and Khing has filmed the whole thing on a green screen. Khing Hnin Wai described herself as a physical education teacher on her Facebook profile and has posted several videos dancing in the same spot. One of her recent posts is a roundup of the different times she’s danced there.
Aric Toler at Bellingcat, journalists who use open source investigation tools to report on war and conflict, chimed in. According to Toler, the video was real and the shadows looked strange because Khing is at the top of a set of stairs. The shadows fall off as the stairs give way.
Khing said she took the video in the morning, claiming in her Facebook post that she went out before seeing the coup announced on the morning news. She’s facing east, the shadows stretching behind her, and the sun in her eyes. You can see her squint. Satellite imagery of the roundabout shows her location at the intersection and the probable path the military convoy took as it drove past her. Online OSINT researchers agree that the video is likely real.
By all accounts, the coup was over fast. The democratically elected government put up no resistance and the military took control so quickly that many didn’t feel its shock in the moment. Associated Press photos show people doing their morning yoga routine in a nearby park.