Military crackdowns sent hundreds to their deaths.
A six-year-old shot in the stomach as she ran to her father’s arms. A woman in her seventies killed while saying her prayers in her home. Young men and women gunned down as they protested in the street, demanding democracy. The casualties of Myanmar’s post-coup crackdown span all ages, social classes, and ethnic and religious backgrounds. They include students and poets, nurses and bank staff, politicians and construction workers.
Nearly seven months after the army seized power on Feb. 1, Myanmar’s security forces have killed more than 1,000 people in a bid to crush resistance, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group that has tracked arrests and deaths. Almost daily, the association’s death tally rises.
Myanmar’s army says the AAPP is biased and that far fewer people have been killed. The junta now ruling the country rejects accusations by rights groups that it is responsible for atrocities that the United Nations has said could amount to crimes against humanity. In mid-April, the military acknowledged the death of 248 protesters but said they had initiated violence. The junta has said dozens of members of the security forces have been killed. A spokesman for the junta did not respond to requests for comment for this report.
Many of the dead civilians were killed at protests. Others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In this visual history of the crackdown, Reuters tells the stories of seven who died.
Young lives lost
When protests began, Thinzar Hein joined hundreds of thousands of people on the streets staging daily demonstrations. She was a 20-year-old student, from a generation that grew up in an era of relative freedom after the army that ruled for half a century began reforms in 2011 and agreed to the formation of a civilian government. About 55% of Myanmar’s 54 million people are less than 30 years old, and the early street demonstrations were infused with a sense of fun. Protesters produced an endless flow of memes and staged dance routines in the streets. A popular slogan was, “You messed with the wrong generation.”
As security forces began breaking up the demonstrations with increasing force, some, like Thinzar Hein, took on roles as volunteer medics, treating people hit with tear gas and rubber bullets and, later, gunshot wounds.
Animated graphic showing a photo of Thinzar Hein, a young Burmese woman in her nurse’s uniform holding her nurse’s hat on her head with both hands. As you scroll, the image is cut into a grid of squares. One by one, the squares fill with grey covering the photo until Thinzar Hein can only be seen through the remaining 268 open squares – one square for each of the at least 268 people aged 24 and younger who were killed.
Thinzar Hein was one of at least
people age 24 and younger killed
The nursing student who taught others to save lives
On March 26, second-year nursing student Thinzar Hein, aware of the grave danger she faced as a medic on the frontlines of increasingly violent protests, wrote on Facebook, “I hope my loved ones will forgive me for going on a journey that doesn’t guarantee a safe return.”
Two days later, the 20-year-old was shot and killed by Myanmar troops at a demonstration in the town of Monywa, in the northern Sagaing Division.
A top student in her class, according to her father, Thinzar Hein had been staying in the town to put her nursing skills to use treating injured protesters, against the wishes of her family, who lived in a village several hours’ drive away.
Her father, Thein Tun, said he had tried and failed to call her home after the coup. A farmer, he did not share her political views and worried for her safety. But, he said, “my daughter had a strong will to do something – she believed nothing is impossible, she had courage to do whatever she wanted to reach her goal.”
So, Thinzar Hein stayed in Monywa, blocked her father’s phone number and refused to tell her family where she was staying. “I called her 20 times on the phone but she never picked up,” he said. “How could I find her when I didn’t know where she stayed in the city? I cried every time she ignored my phone calls.”
On Feb. 22, during a mass demonstration, wearing a yellow sweater that read “Passion x Consistency”, Thinzar Hein gave a speech rebuking her parents’ generation. If they had successfully fought for the military’s removal from politics, she said, she and her friends wouldn’t have to.
“I came to Monywa alone,” she told one crowd. “Here are none of my relatives. I stand on my own feet to join this revolution. There is no shame in lying to your parents, but you should feel shame if you tell your children you are involved in this revolution when you are not.”
Thinzar Hein became friends with another young woman who volunteered as a medic, 23-year-old Aye Chan Zaw, and moved into her house. One day in early March, as the protests grew increasingly dangerous, the pair treated a man who was shot in the thigh. They dragged him out of danger and into a house where they administered first aid, but he died. They needed more help. “We could have saved his life if we had medical kit with us on that day,” Aye Chan Zaw said.
They decided to form a medical team. Aye Chan Zaw said Thinzar Hein invited a group of 20 to their house, where “she taught us how to control bleeding, how to care for broken bones and how to carry injured patients.” The lessons continued until midnight, and “then we prepared to go out to the protests.”
At the protests, Thinzar Hein was brave, her friend recalled. “Anytime something happened, she wanted to go,” Aye Chan Zaw said. “When there was shooting, we went there in the middle of the shooting to help.”
But at home, Thinzar Hein spent her nights watching funny YouTube videos and snacking. Korean spicy noodles were her favorite. “She was just a child,” Aye Chan Zaw told Reuters, breaking into sobs.
On the day she died, Thinzar Hein and her group of first aide volunteers helped a man who had been shot six times with rubber bullets – twice in his arm and four times in the back, according to Aye Chan Zaw. Then the volunteers sat down for a quick break to eat. Aye Chan Zaw remembers she was sitting facing her friend when she felt something graze her shoulder. It was a bullet, she said, and it went on to strike Thinzar Hein’s head.
“I thought at first a gravel stone hit me, I didn’t realize it was a bullet, and I saw she held her head and fell down in front of me,” she said. Aye Chan Zaw’s younger brother and another friend grabbed Thinzar Hein and carried her to a house where doctors were waiting to treat the injured. But nothing could be done.
Monywa police could not be reached for comment on Thinzar Hein’s death.
Her father told Reuters he had been saving up to buy Thinzar Hein a new automatic motorbike.
“I still could not believe it,” he said. “I am still thinking that my daughter is studying in Monywa, and she will come back to me one day.”
The three bloodiest days
Once security forces began using live rounds, the death toll rose rapidly. Many were killed in single-day crackdowns in three towns: Yangon, Bago, and Mandalay. Aung Zin Phyo, 20, was killed in Mandalay on what would become the deadliest day: March 27, the country’s Armed Forces Day.
The military marked the date with a parade of weapons in the capital, Naypyitaw, while crushing mass demonstrations. The night before, the state-run MRTV news channel warned demonstrators to “learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back.” It added: “Parents should also talk their children out of it, let’s not waste lives for nothing.”
Troops killed at least 160 people on March 27, 78 of them in the region of Mandalay, the country’s former royal capital. That evening, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing hosted diplomats for a dinner, during which his image was projected in the sky with drones bearing LED lights.
Animated graphic showing a photo of Aung Zin Phyo, a young Burmese man wearing blue scrubs and a white face mask. A rack of blue canisters, presumably oxygen canisters, can be seen through the window behind him. As you scroll, the image is cut into a grid of squares. One by one, the squares fill with grey covering the photo until Aung Zin Phyo can only be seen through the remaining 353 open squares – one square for each of the at least 353 people killed during the three deadliest days.
Aung Zin Phyo was one of at least
people killed during the 3 deadliest days
The young footballer about to get married
Every morning, 21-year-old Hnin Hnin Aung and her boyfriend, Aung Zin Phyo, 20, ate breakfast together in their hometown of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city. After demonstrations began against the military coup that had upended their lives, they began meeting friends daily to strategize about the day’s protest plan.
“We don’t want to live under a military regime, that’s why we decided to protest,” Hnin Hnin Aung said. The couple went out almost every day and, as the demonstrations grew more serious, joined the “defense team” – the frontlines of protests, fighting back against police with makeshift shields and tossing back smoke grenades.
Both avid gamers, they chose nicknames after avatars from the cell phone game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. She was Lesley; he was Panda. That way, if one was arrested and their phones were confiscated, the authorities would have trouble tracking the other down.
They had been a couple since they were 16 – they lived in the same neighbourhood and began chatting on Facebook. Since graduating from high school, Aung Zin Phyo had been training to mend mobile phones. But he spent a lot of time playing futsal, a version of football played on a small hard court. He dreamed of becoming a professional goalkeeper.
When the second wave of COVID-19 swept Myanmar, Aung Zin Phyo volunteered at an intensive care unit in Mandalay. “He wanted to help everyone, especially the elderly,” she said.
The two sometimes discussed the possibility of being killed. Aung Zin Phyo said he would rather die than be arrested, but he knew his parents would be heartbroken. He said he would do his best to escape.
On March 27, the day that turned out to be the deadliest since the coup, the pair left home together as usual for the day’s protest. “When gunshots were fired, we all scattered,” Hnin Hnin Aung said. At her boyfriend’s urging, she and her friends backed away. The last time she saw him, he was moving towards danger. Later, when they regrouped, she called his phone. Someone else answered: He had been shot.
“We fight together and we die together, that’s what we planned,” Hnin Hnin Aung said. “But I was not there when he died and it hurts my heart.”
Mandalay police did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment about Aung Zin Phyo’s death.
On April 10, their fourth anniversary together, they had planned to get formally engaged. Both sets of parents had already given the marriage their blessing. Instead, they held a small ceremony without Aung Zin Phyo. “He was not there, but we still cut the cake for him,” Hnin Hnin Aung said in a quiet voice.
“I still cannot believe that he died,” she said. “I want to die to follow him.”
Shot to death
The Armed Forces Day bloodshed drew widespread international condemnation. The killings continued nonetheless.
A day later, March 28, longtime activist Ah Khu was shot dead at a protest in Sagaing Division. While security forces started out by policing protests with non-lethal weapons, by mid-March they were armed with assault rifles, sniper rifles and submachine guns, according to Amnesty International, which said troops had adopted “shoot to kill tactics to suppress the protests”. Of those who were shot, about a quarter were shot in the head, according to the AAPP data. A military spokesman had no comment on Amnesty’s report.
Animated graphic showing a photo of Ah Khu, taken in an outdoor garden area. Ah Khu has medium-length brown hair, wears black and is holding a tree trunk while smiling at the camera. As you scroll, the image is cut into a grid of squares. One by one, the squares fill with grey covering the photo until Ah Khu can only be seen through the remaining 595 open squares – one square for each of the at least 595 people who were shot.
Ah Khu was one of
people who were shot
The women’s rights leader and activist
In Kale, a small town perched on the mountainous India-Myanmar border, many knew Ah Khu, an activist who promoted the rights of women.
For over a decade the 37-year-old had been a director of Women for Justice, a nonprofit that campaigned to stop violence against women and help victims, especially from the ethnic Chin, mostly Christian, minority group she belonged to. She led workshops on gender equality and traveled across the country to collaborate with other organizations and raise funds, sometimes going to India to help refugee Chin women.
“So many people knew her name as women’s rights activist Ah Khu,” said her colleague Ju Jue.
After the coup, Women for Justice – like many civil society groups across the country – turned to organizing protests. Ah Khu was a regular at demonstrations in Kale, often alongside her husband, Lahphai Laseng. Naturally shy, he said he had gained confidence by marrying her.
“I have lost everything,” he said.
On March 28, Ah Khu was at a protest with her friend and colleague Ju Jue when at around 3 pm, soldiers began opening fire. Explosions resounded around them; they thought the security forces were throwing grenades.
As the two women were urging others to flee – small children were among the crowds – Ah Khu fell to the ground. “At first I thought she fell accidentally, so I tried to pick her up, but she said she had been shot in the chest,” Ju Jue said. “She couldn’t believe it. How was it possible? We were too far from the place they were shooting. She could only say, ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’”
They took her to hospital on a motorbike, but doctors were unable to resuscitate her. Fearful of retribution for treating a protester, the doctors urged her family to take her body away quickly. Her husband and friends drove 15 hours to her birthplace deep in the Chin hills. On the way, questioned by security forces three times at check points, they gave an alternative name for Ah Khu and said she had died of high blood pressure.
Kale police did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.
On arrival, villagers greeted them with revolutionary songs and the anti-coup movement’s signature three-finger salute, Ah Khu’s husband said. But the family was not allowed to put her name on her grave because locals were afraid the soldiers would cause trouble over it. On a cold morning, a small crowd gathered in a clearing in the forest as her coffin was lowered, video of the funeral showed. A priest read from the Bible, and a colleague at Women for Justice read out a declaration releasing her from her work on earth.
The poet “brothers”
Part of a tight circle of poets living in and around the town of Monywa, northwestern Myanmar, K Za Win and Khet Thi were as close as brothers, according to people who knew them. Both from the west bank of the Chindwin River, across the water from the town, they spent time together in tea shops and restaurants, talking politics and poetry.
“They were always together,” a friend and fellow poet from the town told Reuters. “They clashed from time to time, but they remained brothers. They were very close.”
They died within weeks of one another, according to local media reports and relatives, at the hands of the military they often lampooned in their verse.
K Za Win, 39, was born to a poor family in the town of Letpadaung and was 16 when his first poem was published in a school magazine. He became an activist, spending more than a year in prison after participating in a 400-mile march from Mandalay to Yangon for education reform. While behind bars he wrote a poem, addressed to his father, exploring family duties and exploitation by the military.
Khet Thi, 44, would have people over for poetry readings, guitar singalongs and bootleg whisky in the town of Pale, not far from Monywa, where his parents ran a peanut oil press, recalls ko ko thett, who translated the work of both poets into English.
Khet Thi “had this poetic and physical presence, which at first seemed standoffish, but when you got to know him you knew he was gentle and kind to the point of vulnerability,” the translator recalled.
Selling poems to journals for a few dollars per piece was no way to make a living, so Khet Thi sold cakes and ice-cream in his neighbourhood.
In one verse, Khet Thi wrote about a massacre of Rohingya villagers in 2017 during the military crackdown that forced 730,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The army denies committing abuses, and has said it was countering terrorists.
In the days after the military seized power on Feb.1, both poets realized the gravity of the situation, the translator said. “They knew that a revolution had begun,” ko ko thett said.
K Za Win quickly began organizing protests in the town. On Facebook he posted a stream of snippets of verse:
On March 3, K Za Win was with friends at the front of a demonstration in Monywa, where deadly force had not yet been used. Security forces began firing at the crowd. K Za Win was shot and killed. Speaking to VICE News afterwards, Khet Thi, who was leading protests elsewhere at the time according to his wife, said he had heard K Za Win had not fled when the shooting started. He stayed behind to protect a group of students.
Monywa police could not be reached for comment on K Za Win’s death.
His death shocked the tight community in Monywa. But Khet Thi continued to lead protests, his wife said, traveling around villages day and night giving speeches.
On May 8, the security forces came for Khet Thi, surrounding his home in Monywa and grabbing him as he tried to flee, according to his family. A brother, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said the men accused Khet Thi of having 500 handmade guns and organizing explosive missions. The accusations were baseless, the brother said.
The next morning, authorities told Khet Thi’s wife, Ma Chaw Su, that he was in hospital in Monywa. But when she arrived, she was told to sign his death certificate: He had died and would be immediately cremated. “I begged them to give back my husband’s body. I knelt down and begged them to give back my husband’s body,” she said.
Khet Thi’s body and head were covered in bruises and his abdomen had been sliced open and crudely stitched up, his wife and brother told Reuters. An autopsy note and members of the security forces said he had a heart attack, according to the family. A military spokesman didn’t reply to requests for comment.
“He was murdered unjustly,” said his brother. “There are no words to describe it.”
The chief of Shwebo police station, which Khet Thi’s relatives said was involved in the arrest, did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
Khet Thi and K Za Win, said their fellow poet from the area, “have become the people’s poets … I think they gave their lives to show what a poet is.”
Detained, then dead
Since the coup, authorities have arrested thousands of people across the country in connection with protests, sending them to jails and interrogation centers known for overcrowding and brutal treatment. At least 110 people have died in detention, according to the data from AAPP. Among those 110 are teenagers and several politicians from the former ruling National League for Democracy party whose bodies were returned to their families with bruising and other injuries, the AAPP says. In many cases, authorities have denied detainees were abused and have given other explanations for their deaths.
Some detainees died without seeing the inside of a cell. Maung Thet, a construction worker from the central town of Bago, was killed by security forces shortly after he was taken by junta troops, relatives told Reuters. The military, which did not respond to requests for comment, has said the security forces in Bago were attacked by rioters using handmade guns, petrol bombs, arrows and grenades.
Animated graphic showing a photo of Maung Thet, a Burmese man wearing a black t-shirt, olive green cap and a surgical mask. His right bicep is tattooed, and he holds a piece of equipment out of sight of the photo. As you scroll, the image is cut into a grid of squares. One by one, the squares fill with grey covering the photo until Maung Thet can only be seen through the remaining 110 open squares – one square for each of the at least 110 people who died after being arrested.
Maung Thet was one of at least
people who died after being arrested
The construction worker who sheltered young protesters
In his younger days, according to a close relative, Maung Thet had a reputation for being something of a brawler. By the time of the coup, neighbors say, he was a 44-year-old construction worker and community volunteer in the town of Bago with a wife, 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
He was also politically active. He had worked with the local chapter of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party during the 2015 election that brought the movement to power, ending half a century of military and military-backed rule.
In 2020, Maung Thet volunteered with COVID-19 prevention efforts, disinfecting public places including schools and monasteries as well as the homes of patients. He tried persuading people to share rice and groceries with poorer families who had lost their incomes amid the pandemic. “He always stood up for poor people,” said the relative.
After the military seized power and soldiers began carrying out night raids, Maung Thet helped form a neighbourhood watch group to sound the alarm when troops arrived. When protests began, he became a leader of a local “defense team”, leading a group of young people who stayed at the frontlines of demonstrations and built roadblocks to stop security forces advancing.
On April 9, soldiers launched a pre-dawn crackdown in Bago, according to local media reports. They destroyed the sandbags protesters had built to stop bullets. Then they turned their assault rifles, heavy weapons, and hand grenades on the protesters, who fought back with air rifles. Scores were killed, AAPP said.
In the chaos, Maung Thet and his defense team of about a dozen fled to a nearby village. When a relative called him on the phone, he said they were waiting for another group to join them before moving on to another safehouse. Soldiers tracked his team, however, and arrested Maung Thet and one of the young protesters.
The next day, according to the relative, other family members went to look for Maung Thet at the site of his arrest and saw several pools of blood. The AAPP said at least 81 people died in Bago that day.
When Maung Thet’s family retrieved his body from the local hospital, the relative said they saw his back was bruised and beaten, his head swollen and bleeding, and his stomach had been cut open and stitched back up. A photo seen by Reuters showed his head was bloodied and bruised, while his lower body was covered by a cloth.
A spokesman for the Bago region police did not answer phone calls seeking comment on Maung Thet’s death.
After Maung Thet’s killing, many of his neighbors fled, fearing for their own safety.
“Everyone in this ward cried over his death,” the relative said. “Some people posted on social media that he was a ‘roof of the house.’ Now there is no roof to protect their family and community.”
Children 17 and under
Panei Phyu was one of 63 children aged 17 and under who have lost their lives. Some were shot at protests. Others, like her, were killed in their own homes or while playing in the street during military raids. The youngest were two baby girls, each a year old: one killed in a crash with a military vehicle, the other shot in the head and stomach, according to AAPP.
The United Nations Child Rights Committee warned in July that children in Myanmar are “facing catastrophic loss of life because of the military coup.” More than 1,000 children have been detained since the coup, the committee said, many taken into custody when troops were unable to find a wanted family member.
Animated graphic showing a photo of Panei Phyu, a young Burmese girl standing in a garden and wearing a dark blue sweatshirt. As you scroll, the image is cut into a grid of squares. One by one, the squares fill with grey covering the photo until Panei Phyu can only be seen through the remaining 63 open squares – one square for each of the at least 63 people who died after being arrested.
Panei Phyu was one of at least
children age 17 and younger killed
The teen who loved TikTok
Since the start of the protests, 14-year-old Panei Phyu had been begging her mother to let her tag along to demonstrations. Thida San, 35, always told her daughter to stay at home where she’d be safe.
Panei Phyu made do with TikTok, posting videos of herself singing along to anti-coup songs in their small wooden home in the central town of Meiktila, sometimes with her little brother in the background.
But on March 27, the protests came to them. When soldiers opened fire on a group of students in the town, sending them fleeing into the side streets, Panei Phyu opened the door of her home to let the protestors inside, Thida San said. She fetched them some water, a fleeting relief from the scorching heat of the hot season, and they left.
Panei Phyu kept standing at the window, atop a stool, curiously watching the action. “I said, ‘Why are you standing there?’ She just gave me a glance.” Then the teen fell off the stool.
Soldiers had fired two bullets at the house, Thida San said; one struck Panei Phyu through the heart. Thida San screamed for help and the students came running back, but her daughter had died instantly.
Fearing the authorities would take the girl’s body, the couple wrapped their daughter in a blanket and drove to Thida San’s husband’s village. Thida San said local officials refused to allow her to be buried there due to the sensitivity of the case. A resident of the village confirmed her account. Ko Ka Phu, the village administrators, told Reuters by phone village elders and members of the administration had decided not to allow her to be buried there for fear of conflict.
They had to drive back to Meiktila and bury Panei Phyu in a local cemetery. Thida San said the police called her twice to complain, saying they wanted to take her body for an autopsy. Authorities have performed autopsies on many who died in the protests, in some cases declaring that the results absolved troops and police of culpability.
“I told them I will never allow them to take her out from the grave,” Thida San said. “I have already lost my daughter – I don’t need anyone’s permission to bury her.”
Hla Phyo Aung Kyaw, an officer at Meiktila police station, said any information about Panei Phyu’s death was confidential and declined to answer questions over the phone.
After the burial, Thida San said, the family hid the grave markers bearing Panei Phyu’s name for fear that soldiers would exhume her body for an autopsy. They have since ordered a marble tomb stone engraved with her name.
“I want to die instead of her,” Thida San said. “She was just growing up.”
Despite the risks, protests continue daily in Myanmar. Lately, protestors have tended to join in flash mob-style demonstrations rather than mass gatherings.
Hundreds of young people also have joined ethnic armed groups fighting the junta or formed guerrilla outfits of their own, including a new group called the People’s Defence Force, which is backed by an underground government set up to rival the junta. They say they have killed hundreds of members of the security forces, who have carried out raids on suspected hideouts. The junta has described these organizations as terrorist groups and has said it will stop them from harming state security.
Many relatives and friends of those who have died say the killings have hardened their determination to resist the junta.
After the poet K Za Win was killed, his friend Khet Thi posted a tribute on Facebook, words that have since become a slogan of the demonstrations.
Reuters research and data collected by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) between Feb. 8 and Aug 26. In some cases, Reuters was not able to verify age or cause of death.
Visual editing by
Sarah Slobin and Matthew Weber
Matthew Tostevin and Michael Williams
Burmese translation by
Wa Lone. Poems translated from Burmese into English by ko ko thett.
Photos of Thinzar Hein, Aung Zin Phyo, Ah Khu, Maung Thet and Panei Phyu provided by their families.