When May Hnin Aye, a middle-school teacher and mother of a one-year-old son, joined a movement to protest the junta that took over Myanmar last February, she lost her job and source of income and was forced to flee her home in Homalin, a town in restive Sagaing region with several military bases.
She moved in with her parents in the Kawya area to the north and found work as an online vendor. As she worked peacefully to pressure the military to give up power, May Hnin Aye was still able to provide financial support for her family and also helped a former student in need—an example, a former colleague said, of her generosity and resourcefulness.
But personal business brought her back temporarily to Homalin last month, and on Oct. 24, as she and her husband were sitting on their veranda, three men dressed in civilian clothes got out of a white car and started shooting.
The men chased the couple as they ran into the house. Bullets struck May Hnin Aye’s arm, thigh, and chest, killing her, said Kyaw Win Sein, her brother-in-law and a protest leader. No one else was hurt.
May Hnin Aye was one of more than 200,000 educators across Myanmar who walked off their jobs to join the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) after the military wrested control of the country from its democratically elected government in a Feb. 1 coup. Doctors, nurses, engineers, and bankers have also joined the movement, featuring work stoppages aimed at forcing the junta to reverse course.
During the past few months, the military regime has been targeting CDM members in a violent crackdown on striking workers and protesters. The junta has pressured some teachers and others to return to work, though many continue to take part in anti-government protests.
Friends and relatives believe that May Hnin Aye was targeted not for her involvement with CDM, but rather as part of a politically motivated act of vengeance due to her association with Kyaw Win Sein, a well-known student activist wanted by the military junta as a suspect in the killings of pro-military militia members.
On the morning of the May Hnin Aye’s death, Maung Mawt, a suspected military informant identified by locals as a leader of the Pyu Saw Htee group in Homalin township, was shot dead.
Pyu Saw Htee is a group reportedly formed with support from the military to counter the anti-regime resistance movement in Myanmar’s Sagaing region and elsewhere.
“We believe it was a plot by a Pyu Saw Htee faction and the military because they acted so boldly and calmly,” said Kyaw Win Sein, a former chairman of the Mandalay University Student Union, a group that has produced several protest participants.
Kyaw Win Sein denied that he had any involvement in the killings of the Pyu Saw Htee members.
Her death is a ‘huge loss’
The shooting of May Hnin Aye wasn’t the first act of violence against the family. On Oct. 18, junta forces burned down his family’s convenience shop in Homalin Market, Kyaw Win Sein said.
Homalin police say they are investigating May Hnin Aye’s murder. But in the two weeks since, no one has been arrested for the crime.
“The whole town knows who killed her,” Kyaw Win Sein said. One of the attackers was plump, had long hair, and appeared to be a town local, he said.
“Currently, there is no justice,” he said. “When this revolution is over, we will file charges against these perpetrators.”
May Hnin Aye had graduated from Monywa University and worked as a middle-school teacher at a government-run school in Parhok village, which borders the Sagaing region and neighboring Kachin state.
A former colleague, who declined to be named for safety reasons, said her death was a “huge loss” for the community.
“May Hnin Aye was always active and could take the lead in all activities,” the colleague said. “She had provided as much support as possible to the poor students in school. She also motivated others to give support to the needy.”
“I feel so sorry that this killing happened at such a time,” the source added. “It should not happen again. Our CDM heroes, our teachers, have already given up their careers. They shouldn't be giving up their lives like this.”
At least three schoolteachers participating in the CDM have been killed to date and more than 100 arrested, according to the Bago Township Basic Education Teachers Union.
At her parents’ request, May Hnin Aye was buried in her home village of Kawya.
Nine months after the military coup, junta forces have killed 1,242 civilians and arrested at least 7,038, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners — mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
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