MMA fighters speak out against military coup in Myanmar

Two MMA fighters who compete for ONE Championship are among those who have voiced their opposition to the military coup that took place in…

By: Karim Zidan | 3 years ago
MMA fighters speak out against military coup in Myanmar
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Two MMA fighters who compete for ONE Championship are among those who have voiced their opposition to the military coup that took place in Myanmar last month.

Light-heavyweight champion Aung La N Sang and featherweight Phoe Thaw spoke in favor of peaceful demonstrations while raising awareness about the military’s brutal oppression of Myanmar’s citizens.

“To my international friends and family, it has been 16 days (since) the military has seized power in my home country,” N Sang wrote on social media. “The people of Myanmar have responded immediately in the masses with peaceful demonstrations and a nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that involves government agencies, teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and even the police across the country. Unfortunately in the past few days, the military government escalated their assault on the citizens by firing at protesters in Mandalay and Naypyidaw. Last night, in Myitkyina (Kachin state), my hometown, the military fired their weapons and arrested journalists.”

On Feb. 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military seized control following a general election which elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won in a landslide. Hundreds of government officials were detained, including Suu Kyi and members of the NLD party. Suu Kyi was later charged with possessing illegal walkie-talkies, violating COVID-19 restrictions during last year’s election campaign and publishing information that may “cause fear or alarm”.

Under the leadership of General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military declared a year-long state of emergency and announced plans to hold a “free and fair” election once the state of emergency lapses despite there being no evidence to support claims of election fraud. The general sought to justify the military coup by claiming that the military was interested in forming a “true and disciplined democracy.”

The military takeover has been met widespread peaceful protests within Myanmar. In the face of the largest protests since the Saffron Revolution in 2007 where thousands of monks challenged the military regime, the military has imposed curfews and has reportedly dispersed protesters using rubber bullets, live ammunition, and water cannons. Beyond that, N Sang revealed that the military has imposed restrictions that limit freedom of expression and allow for arbitrary arrests.

“They have passed new laws that will allow them to arrest anyone without a warrant if they feel they are a threat to their regime,” N Sang continued. “Already many citizens have been abducted in the middle of the night without reason. They have restricted internet usage, especially social media, and now shutting connection down during the night. They have released over 20,000 prisoners who now pose a threat to local neighbourhoods and disturbing the peace. As of now, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Win Myint together with their party members are still detained. We still have not heard from them.

“Myanmar has enjoyed only a few years of democracy which came about in a peaceful transition after decades of dictatorship. However, our future remains bleak under the current circumstance.”

Phoe Thaw reiterated N Sang’s comments during a recent interview, revealing that Myanmar’s people “want democracy, not dictatorship.”

“We’re not coming out on to the road to fight, we just want, peacefully, to get back our freedom, our democracy, our justice,” Thaw explained. “If we lose this time, the future is like North Korea.”

Numerous countries have condemned Myanmar’s military coup, including the United States and the United Kingdom, both of whom imposed sanctions on military officials. UN Secretart General António Guterres referred to the conflict as a “serious blow to democratic reforms.” However, it remains unclear whether the international pressure will have any impact on the coup efforts. Yet despite the uncertainty, Thaw remains convinced that Myanmar’s citizens will remain resolute in the face of oppression.

“Our belief and spirit are mentally very, very strong,” he said. “Stronger than the dictators.”

Share this story

About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

More from the author

Bloody Elbow Podcast
Related Stories