Myanmar’s Doctors and Front-Line Medics Are Protesting the Military Coup

“We cannot accept dictators and an unelected government,” one doctor said.
February 3, 2021, 6:48am
Myanmar; nurse; three-finger salute; protest
A medical staff wearing a red ribbon, displays the three finger protest salute at the Yangon General Hospital. PHOTO: AFP

Front-line medical workers in Myanmar are now on the front lines of growing dissent against a coup after calling for a nationwide strike to oppose the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and the dreaded return of junta rule to the Southeast Asian country.

A group launched on Facebook, under the name Civil Disobedience Movement, is hitting back after military generals shocked the world by dismantling Myanmar’s fledgling democracy and putting in place a yearlong state of emergency.

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose human rights record has been tarnished abroad, remains hugely popular at home and still has not been heard from since being detained in early morning raids on Monday.

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“We refuse to obey any order from the illegitimate military regime who has demonstrated that they do not have any regard for our poor patients,” said one statement by medical professionals that was widely circulated on social media.

“We refuse to obey orders from an illegitimate military regime who has demonstrated that they do not have any regard for our patients.”

“We have been bearing the brunt of the global COVID-19 pandemic and providing much-needed medical care to our patients despite limited resources and infrastructure. Now the military has ruthlessly staged a coup d'etat and installed themselves as government.”

Photos show doctors in Yangon flashing the three-fingered salute from the Hunger Games movies, which has become an iconic form of protest after being popularized in Thailand’s new pro-democracy movement.

Medical staff at the Yangon General Hospital wear red ribbons and display the three finger salute, a sign of protest popularised by protesters in neighboring Thailand. (PHOTO: AFP, STRINGER)

Medical staff at the Yangon General Hospital wear red ribbons and display the three finger salute, a sign of protest popularized by protesters in neighboring Thailand. PHOTO: AFP, STRINGER

Doctors in Myanmar have joined the call to protest against the new military government. (PHOTO: AFP, STRINGER)

Doctors in Myanmar have joined the call to protest against the new military government. PHOTO: AFP, STRINGER

A related campaign called for doctors to wear red ribbons to show their support and solidarity for Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose traditional color is red. It follows a past black ribbon campaign, which was also started by Myanmar’s medical community to protest against the militarization of health care services. 

 “The first step is social media,” organizers wrote in a Facebook post. “We will not accept power seizures and will keep supporting the NLD government to show that we are against military dictators, so we will by displaying red ribbons on our chests.” 

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“The next step, for those able to join us, is to not go to work, stopping government mechanisms. Doctors and their medical staff will continue to heal patients but will oppose all orders from the new administration.”

Their acts of defiance come as Myanmar descends into political chaos amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, which has infected more than 140,000 people in the country. The pandemic remains a deep challenge to the military in a country with a severely-neglected health care system.

Monday’s coup took place after November elections which saw Suu Kyi’s party claim a repeat landslide victory after the first democratic polls were held in 2015 following decades of military-backed rule.

The NLD won 83 percent of available seats. The military alleged that the vote was “marred by fraud” but the claims have been dismissed by observers.

Many medical professionals said they would refrain from turning up to work at hospitals and clinics because of the recent events but would offer services at home.

The calls have also spread from Yangon to other cities in the country.

“We want an elected government, not the military,” said a general practitioner at a private medical lab in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city. “That’s why many of us are staying home and taking part in the civil disobedience campaign.” 

The doctor, who preferred not to be named for security fears, told VICE World News in a phone interview that many hospitals were joining the growing movement. 

“We may not be making noise by taking to the streets but we are supporting this movement from our medical wards.” 

“We may not be making noise by taking to the streets but we are supporting this movement from our medical wards.”

She also stressed that doctors and other medical staff would support the campaign “the best they could.” 

“Not every doctor can boycott. Some must be with their patients in hospital who are in critical care but every doctor I know will be joining the Red Ribbon Movement by displaying their ribbons and sharing them on Facebook.”