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Supporters of Myanmar’s imprisoned leader Suu Kyi commemorate her 79th birthday through a protest adorned with flowers

Aung San Suu Kyi, who spearheaded a decades-long campaign against military rule, was arrested in 2021 after the army overthrew her elected government.

In Bangkok, supporters of Myanmar’s deposed and imprisoned leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, organized peaceful protests infused with floral motifs to commemorate her 79th birthday on Wednesday. Despite facing severe repression from the military regime, some demonstrators took to the streets in defiance.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate renowned for her protracted struggle against military governance, was arrested on February 1, 2021, following a coup that ousted her elected government. She currently endures a 27-year prison sentence on charges widely perceived as politically motivated to stifle her activism.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an independent organization tracking detentions, more than 20,600 individuals are currently held for opposing military rule.

Throughout Myanmar, pro-democracy activists staged public demonstrations in honor of Suu Kyi, particularly in regions outside direct military control such as Sagaing, Magway, Tanintharyi, and Kachin. Social media platforms showcased images of protesters displaying Suu Kyi’s likeness and banners proclaiming messages like “Happy Birthday, Steel Rose” and “The steel roses will fight back against the junta’s oppression steadfastly,” invoking her revered moniker and adopting it as a symbol of resilience.

In remote areas beyond the army’s reach, pro-democracy guerrilla groups also marked the occasion.

Since the military takeover in 2021, Myanmar has been embroiled in turmoil, initially sparked by nationwide peaceful protests that escalated into armed resistance, culminating in what many now consider a civil conflict.

Nevertheless, nonviolent protests persist as a prevalent form of dissent, both online and on the ground, often organized around symbolic gestures like the “flower strike.” A common tactic involves sharing self-portraits online adorned with symbols of resistance or imagery associated with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), albeit with faces obscured to evade identification by authorities.

In Tanintharyi’s southern region, hundreds gathered in Dawei district, echoing Suu Kyi’s poignant axiom: “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” Min Lwin Oo, a leader of the Democracy Movement Strike Committee in Dawei, expressed that the quote was meant to embolden people to defy the military dictatorship courageously.

In major urban centers like Yangon and Mandalay, where security forces routinely deploy force to disband demonstrations and make arrests, young activists held more discreet protests. Eleven Media reported 22 arrests in Mandalay allegedly linked to participation in the flower-themed protest.

Tayzar San, a prominent figure in the opposition’s General Strike Coordination Body, underscored the public’s steadfast participation as evidence that even after enduring three years under oppressive military rule, the spirit of resistance remains undiminished.

Demonstrators rallying to mark Suu Kyi’s 79th birthday in Launglon township on Wednesday.

Kim Aris, Suu Kyi’s son residing in London, urged supporters to commemorate his mother’s birthday by supporting humanitarian relief efforts. In a statement shared on his Facebook page, Aris acknowledged the desire of Suu Kyi’s admirers to present her with flowers and cakes, despite her inability to accept such gifts under confinement. He encouraged directing efforts towards humanitarian aid, emphasizing it as Suu Kyi’s most cherished birthday wish.

The United Nations estimates that conflict in Myanmar has displaced at least three million people in the past three years, underscoring urgent humanitarian needs.

On Wednesday, Suu Kyi’s NLD party, which the military regime dissolved last year, issued a statement on its Facebook page demanding the release of all political detainees, including Suu Kyi.

Several Western embassies echoed support by posting images of roses and jasmine on social media, alongside statements advocating for the release of Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

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