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Rochester’s Burmese residents protest Myanmar military coup

Hkadin Lee | Facebook livestream
Protesters march along State St. in Rochester on Friday

Rochestarians from the country Myanmar are protesting for a second week. About ten people gathered outside of the Federal Building in downtown Rochester on Friday. 

About 8,000 miles away from Rochester, in Southeast Asia, a military coup overthrew the country’s elected government just weeks after insurrectionists attacked the Capitol building in Washington D.C.

“I felt like I was living in a deja vu, witnessing what happened in the Capitol” said Hkadin Lee, one of the protest organizers. “Then not too long after, I had seen the news of what happened in Myanmar. I haven’t been able to sleep much since then.”

Myanmar’s armed forces overthrew the government on Feb.1 claiming election fraud.

“I want the world to know this... illegally they took the power,” said Chan Lian Thang, who came to Rochester as a refugee from the Chin state of Myanmar in 2012.

While the number of protesters here is small, they join hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators around the world and in Myanmar, calling for the release of hundreds of political prisoners -- including opposition leader and former state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi -- and an end to the military’s power grab. 

Lee, from the Kachin state of Myanmar, said when she saw what was happening she had a flashback to when she was part of a student-led uprising against the country’s then military dictatorship 30 years ago. 

“My memories went back to 1988, when the military, the soldiers, shot many of the students on the street,” she said. “The bodies were piling up on the streets and in the ditch.”

That was just before she came to Rochester as a student at Monroe Community College.

Credit Hkadin Lee | Facebook livestream
Protesters gathered outside of the Federal Building on State St. in downtown Rochester on Friday in solidarity with peaceful demonstrators in Myanmar who are protesting a military coup.

Since 1962 Myanmar, formerly Burma, has mostly been under military rule. In 2011, it transitioned to a democracy.

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, a minority in the Buddhist country, fled Myanmar during a violent army suppression after police stations were attacked in the Rakhine state.

The International Criminal Court is investigating the country for crimes against humanity, while the International Court of Justice is pursing charges of genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi was in power at the time.

In Rochester, Hkadin Lee and Thang are part of a group called Multi-Ethnic Myanmar Communities. Lee said that in Myanmar there isn’t freedom of religion, but there is power in unity anywhere when people come together regardless of their backgrounds. 

“There is not much we can do to help the people of Myanmar,” said Lee. “But one thing we can do is come together to bring awareness to Rochesterians.”

Protesters will be demonstrating again on Saturday at 1:00pm outside of the Federal Building, she said.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.