NYC’s Burmese community speaks out against military coup in Myanmar

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Days after a military coup in Myanmar, the army’s top general virtually shut down the internet as pro-Democracy protesters took to the streets.

The biggest rally yet against Monday’s overthrow of the government came in the city of Yangon, where demonstrators marched past police outfitted in riot gear, chanting, “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win,” while holding banners reading, “Against military dictatorship.”

The protests came as the general, Min Aung Hlaing, blocked access to Twitter and Instagram, then virtually shut down the internet Saturday — a move to stop the spread of “fake news.”

New York’s robust Burmese community is tracking the protests minute-by-minute. For Thi Ha, 37, the takeover has sounded the death knell for democracy. David Khin is more optimistic, convinced his fellow Burmese citizens — banging their pots and pans in protest — will someday snatch back their hard-fought freedoms.

But the New Yorkers unequivocally agree that now is a frightening time, even for them, because their words could mean trouble for their parents back home in the country once known as Burma.

Min Aung Hlaing justified his power grab by claiming the National League of Democracy, the controlling party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, had stolen November’s parliamentary elections. The U.S. has condemned the takeover.

“Democracy is dead. That’s 100%,” declared Ha, of Brooklyn. “Now we lost our freedom in Burma. They detain whoever they want without law.”

Ha, 37, knows the intimidation. He and his wife, MyatMon Thinn, fled the country two years ago, tired of being dogged by soldiers for their pro-democracy efforts shuttling NLD leaders to rallies and organizing protests.

“We try our best to get real democracy with NLD,” Ha told The Post. “And because of that the military try to get me and my family.”

Ha and Thinn abandoned their businesses, an auto shop and a travel agency. Now, he works in a grocery store and she has a job in a beauty supply shop.

Khin, 35, is worried about his livelihood, too, since he owns a PR/marketing agency in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Before the coronavirus pandemic, he split his time between his boyhood home and Queens, where many of New York’s 6,000 Burmese nationals live.

Like Ha, Khin has been a pro-democracy activist for years — but in the U.S., where he came in 2007 to go to college. He and wife May marched in front of the Burmese embassy on Manhattan’s East Side long before Suu Kyi won her first election to Parliament in 2012, and they are as committed as ever to keeping their country free.

“We want change,” Khin told The Post. “That is why dissent is growing. That is why civil disobedience is growing. That is why I’m dissenting in my own way, here.”

And yet, even though he and Ha are halfway around the world, they think the military could make them pay for their words by retaliating against their parents.

“They are OK now, but they are very disturbed, very worried about what could happen, the future,” Khin said. “Of course, I’m worried.”

But both men grew up in families where democracy was embraced — and they’re willing to take the risk of speaking out.

“I’ll do whatever I can for my country to be free from the coup,” Ha said.

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