The banner image from the Facebook page of the Civil Disobedience Movement, which is advocating for non-violent resistance to the ongoing coup. (Facebook)
The banner image from the Facebook page of the Civil Disobedience Movement, which is advocating for non-violent resistance to the ongoing military coup. (Facebook)

After coup, medical workers spearhead civil disobedience campaign

Staff from dozens of state hospitals and medical institutes have pledged to stop working from tomorrow in protest against yesterday’s coup, in what could prove the first major test for the new military regime. 

By FRONTIER

Medical staff from hospitals in Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and other cities say they plan to stop work indefinitely from tomorrow in protest against the military coup. The campaign of civil disobedience follows calls from activist groups and senior National League for Democracy officials for peaceful resistance to the takeover, which the Tatmadaw claims is constitutional.

The campaign could be the first major political test for the new military regime, which has so far faced little tangible opposition to the coup launched in the early hours of Monday. The Tatmadaw says it will rule for a year under an emergency provision in the 2008 Constitution, and has justified its seizure of power through unproven claims of widespread electoral fraud.

The NLD has rejected the legal basis for the takeover, and in an interview with Frontier and other outlets yesterday, NLD patron U Win Htein called on the public to launch non-violent protests in response. His call echoed a letter purportedly from State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that was posted on her Facebook page, urging the people to “boldly stand against the coup”.

This afternoon, activists launched the Civil Disobedience Movement, urging people to “say ‘no’ to military coup”. The Facebook group has already attracted more than 100,000 followers, and government medical staff from around the country began posting notices in the group announcing their plans to go on strike.

So far staff at close to 40 hospitals say they will refuse to work. Joining them are some workers at medical institutes, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Health Laboratory, which has been one of the main testing centres for COVID-19 since the pandemic officially reached Myanmar a year ago.

Frontier was unable to confirm all of these pledges independently, but spoke to several medical staff who confirmed that plans were underway to stop working from tomorrow.

A doctor from the 1,000-bed Nay Pyi Taw General Hospital told Frontier this evening that assistant surgeons were meeting to coordinate the start of the campaign tomorrow.

“There are around 100 assistant surgeons in Nay Pyi Taw and most are working here … it’s not possible to run the hospital without us,” she said. “Nurses will also join the campaign. I don’t know yet whether the specialists will be involved but I have heard some are resigning … there might be no one at the hospital [tomorrow].”

A doctor at the 500-bed general hospital in Pyay, Bago Region, said assistant surgeons there would also join the campaign. “We all know that people [patients] will suffer if we do not go to work. But we [health workers] decided to protest because the medical community is the most united, and the people rely on us. We want to be an example for all other government employees and departments,” the assistant surgeon said.

Dr Kyu Kyu Thin, a doctor and lecturer at the University of Medicine 2 in Yangon, said dozens of lecturers have decided to also go on strike in order to show their dissatisfaction with the coup.

“We had a government that we elected. We cannot allow the military to form a government, so we’re protesting,” she said.

Since January 21, the medical university has been running classes for final-year students who failed their exams, with classes for final-year students scheduled to begin in March.

A statement issued yesterday in the name of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who has assumed all state powers under the coup, said the new military government would prioritise tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, along with resolving the peace process and reviving the economy, prior to holding fresh elections. Addressing the pandemic would be difficult without fully staffed government hospitals, though the Tatmadaw does have a large medical corps and a nationwide network of military hospitals.

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