Sunday, December 10, 2023
HomeOpinionVoices from the underground - Part 1

Voices from the underground – Part 1

Guest contributor


My name is Pyartho. I love teaching. I was an English master trainer for student teachers who taught young learners English before the February 2021 military coup. However, my life changed following it, and I became a radio journalist. I now work as a producer at Federal FM. My life has been turned upside down by the coup. It was the most shocking day of my life when I heard that the military had overthrown the elected government and declared it was in charge. The reason, they claimed, was due to electoral fraud. 

I am a Muslim. Being a Muslim in Myanmar is not always easy. My family faced discrimination over legal documents. Luckily, my school life was not very hard because I stood out most of the time in class. How about my career? My mother thought that in my country, being a teacher was the most respectful job and the easiest way to apply for any document I required. My mother was right. Things were much easier when I became a teacher. Although I faced some discrimination from my principles and superiors, I was used to it, and it didn’t bother me for the job I loved. I was pleased as a teacher.

I joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) on February 5, 2021, after I learned that it was one of the ways to fight against the military, but in a non-violent way. I taught young learners English as a freelance teacher for a living after the military suspended me from my position. Whenever I heard about the military raiding the homes of my colleagues, friends, and other people who joined CDM, I had to move from place to place. I want democracy back for my country, but I don’t want my family to suffer because of me. 

The military shut down the internet. Then, I felt that being involved in CDM wasn’t enough. I needed to do more for my country’s future and to restore democracy. It was the right time to fight for freedom of expression and access to information. So, I joined Federal FM. It was a pirate radio station that started broadcasting on 90.2 FM in Yangon on March 27, 2021. Later, the military traced our broadcast transmitter, so we switched our production to Facebook exclusively. It is now established as a community radio station, based in Karenni State, Myanmar.

I wrote scripts and did voice-over narration for Federal FM from my bedroom. My family had to watch through the window and monitor our surroundings when I recorded my programs. I have survived two years without being caught. At Federal FM, I started out with voice-overs. I’m not a journalist. It was challenging to produce my program. I started an educational program called “Radio Edu” with another member of the team. We first produced homeschooling lessons for the children displaced from their homes and living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps due to the armed resistance to the military coup that began when the peaceful protests were ended by the military in its March 2021 crackdown. 

I also produce a program called “One Minute Federal” which was inspired by a BBC Radio program which was only one-minute in length. I choose a term or a concept of federalism each week and explain it briefly. In October 2022, one of my colleagues at Federal FM was arrested. I had to move around and stay at a safe house in Yangon. I’ve faced similar situations before, but that was my most challenging time. I was mentally broken and didn’t want to stay in Yangon anymore.

I crossed the river into Thailand without any legal documents. I was arrested at the border by Thai police as soon as I stepped into the country. If I had stayed in Myanmar, I could’ve worked for my country’s educational reform until my retirement. However, after getting involved in the CDM, I was targeted by the military like others involved in the non-violent movement. Every CDM member has been blacklisted and arrested when the military finds them trying to leave Myanmar. But the most surprising thing is that they have even been banned from travelling inside the country to keep them from fleeing to areas under the control of Ethnic Resistance Organizations (EROs) or People’s Defense Forces (PDF).

The military threatens anyone involved in the CDM on regime media and pro-military social media pages. That is not all. They have even killed civilians when they found out that they were CDM. I am living in Thailand now. I can sleep well at night without worrying about raids at night. I can use my social media without having to delete news and pictures related to the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. I do feel guilty for being safe here. And everyday I ask myself: Can I return to my home country? Can I return to my job as a teacher?  What does my future hold?

Pyartho is a pseudonym used by a teacher and broadcaster working at Federal FM, a pirate-turned-community radio station broadcasting online and in Karenni State.


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