The Descent of Myanmar – Byline Times

Stephen Delahunty speaks with a British citizen who was arrested by soldiers following the military coup in the country last year

Charlie Artingstoll was arrested last month after 12 heavily armed soldiers entered his home in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, and accused him of being part of an anti-government protest movement.

Since the country’s general elections last November, the Burmese military has contested the results, citing, without evidence, widespread electoral fraud. On February 1 of this year, the military overthrew the government while deploying armored vehicles and live ammunition to quell protests. He also imposed martial law across the country.

Born in Canterbury, Artingstoll moved to this Southeast Asian country in 2014 to begin work at the United Nations. After two years he left his post at the UN and started organizing events for expats, before getting involved in the local hip hop scene and managing upcoming artists. The 29-year-old also ran a watch repair business next door.

Charlie artingstoll

“I played football in the morning,” Artingstoll said Signing time as he remembered the day he was detained. ” I came home. I passed military trucks, checkpoints, places where peaceful protesters had been murdered. During the whole trip, I thought about my friends who had been killed, about friends who had been arrested or who were in hiding.

“I was pissed off. Just before turning onto my road, I saw another military truck coming down the road towards me. I didn’t really think it was just one of those things. I did it almost automatically. , I raised three fingers, it was very good.

The three-fingered salute which originated in the Hunger games The film series has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity for democratic movements across Southeast Asia. Images of pro-democracy protesters saluting could be seen on the streets of Yangon as protesters began to resist the junta government in the weeks following the coup.

“There was a knock on the door, it was the security guard,” Artingstoll said after arriving at his home in downtown Yangon. “He told me that there were soldiers downstairs who wanted to talk to me.

He was confronted with 12 armed men. The group’s leader, made up of soldiers and police, stabbed Artingstoll with his gun and accused him of being part of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) – a campaign involving professionals, such as health workers, lawyers and teachers, refusing to work. under military rule.

“I’ve thought about it a lot because there’s no way I can be a civil servant,” he said. “Did they really know what the CDM meant? They had probably been brainwashed into believing that it was a terrorist group determined to destroy the country.

“I decided not to let them know that I speak Burmese. I remember how unprofessional they looked, all of their pistols were rusty, with serial numbers written in Tipp-Ex, and they all looked different, there was no standard issue. There was no radio, they communicated via cell phones and they swore a lot, including against me. The police seemed to follow the orders of the soldiers.

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The rest of what happened was unclear, Artingstoll said Signing time, as he was put in a truck and taken to a police station.

“It was a bit surreal,” he said. “They wanted to check my photos, but luckily my phone was dead. I was at the police station for about an hour before a senior policeman arrived and told me to leave. The soldiers seemed quite annoyed. I remember being very calm, which is strange because I was sure I was going to end up in jail. I have been very lucky.”

According to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners of Burma – a monitoring group formed by political prisoners in exile now based in Thailand – more than 5,000 people are currently in detention and 873 people have been killed since the start of the coup.

Artingstoll said it was difficult to describe seeing the country implode in 100 days: “Nothing happened the first week, I think people were too shocked to react. Then came mass protests across the country, with millions marching through the streets. The atmosphere was like a giant festival, everyone was so united, and so together.

But things got very dark. Artingstoll said the government responded by releasing 20,000 prisoners in Yangon, who were reportedly given explicit instructions to disturb the peace. In response, citizens formed night watches, taking turns staying awake through the night to protect their neighborhoods.

“People started being abducted in the middle of the night, their bodies later returned with their faces disfigured from the beatings and their organs missing,” he said. Signing time. “Security forces started shooting at protesters trying to protect themselves with hand-made riot shields. I have lost count of how many people I have seen die. It was a premeditated campaign of state terrorism – there is no other way to describe it.

Artingstoll said he had previously discussed with friends whether or not he should leave Myanmar on the day of his arrest. They spoke of all the suffering there had already been – and how much more was to come.

“I reluctantly realized that I had to leave,” he said. “I had to leave because my head and the situation were just too messed up. I should have left months ago, but I stayed in solidarity, leaving was like a sign of defeat.

He said he saw many people flee the city for the jungle so that they could receive military training from opposition groups and take up arms against the junta government. In April, a United Nations official warned that the country was on the brink of a “full-fledged conflict.”

Artingstoll has since fled Myanmar and is currently staying in Bangkok. He said he would like to return there someday as it has become his home, but he doesn’t think it will be safe to do so for long enough.

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Thelma J. Longworth

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