On the day of Myanmar's military coup in February, Aung Soe Moe, a first secretary at the country's embassy in Tokyo, felt that his nation was again descending into a dark era of dictatorship, international isolation and poverty.
Ambassador Soe Han briefed him and other embassy staff about the situation and instructed them to focus on their duties, telling them to consider it business as usual for civil servants.
Recalling Myanmar's suffering after the last putsch in 1988, Aung Soe Moe said, "My personal feeling was that we went back to the dark old age with no peace and human rights — a country ruled by terror and weapons — and that we can no longer see a bright future for our country."
His fellow diplomats were hesitant about freely expressing their views about the Feb. 1 ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, a party that had been promoting democratic reform since the first civilian government was elected in 2015.
"I was very frustrated by the illegal detention of democratically elected leaders and other instances of injustice," Aung Soe Moe, who handled general and administrative affairs at the embassy, said in an interview.
The embassy requested that staff strictly control their Facebook accounts to avoid leaks of internal information, especially when Myanmar expatriates in Japan stepped up anti-coup demonstrations around the embassy, the United Nations University and elsewhere in their adopted country.
"Those striving to restore democracy in Myanmar wanted embassy staff to join the civil disobedience movement, or CDM, against military rule," Aung Soe Moe said. "We were worried that those outside the embassy may impose social punishment on us such as labeling us through social media as traitors who back the military."
With the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar's armed forces are known, showing no signs of halting the violence or freeing Suu Kyi and other detainees, Aung Soe Moe and one of his colleagues at the embassy announced their respective participation in the CDM on Facebook on March 6.
Some other colleagues had also been considering boycotting their work to join the CDM but were unable to stand up and speak out against the coup, according to Aung Soe Moe, even though they shared the agony of watching unnamed protestors and other civilians — including children — being gunned down or tortured.
Sensing the risk they may be targeted and persecuted by the junta, Aung Soe Moe and his junior colleague — a second secretary who wishes to remain anonymous — left the embassy compound, which had been their home, on March 11.
The junta-run Foreign Ministry dismissed them for taking part in the CDM. Aung Soe Moe and the second secretary did not resign and simply continued their peaceful strike, but their diplomatic status and passports, according to the junta, have been revoked.
Since leaving the embassy, the two have lived separately in Tokyo with the support of Myanmar expatriates in Japan, who number some 32,000.
People close to them say both have been studying Japanese intensively, a sign they are envisioning that their stay may be extended.
Aung Soe Moe attends online meetings with other diplomats participating in the CDM around the world. He declined to say what they discuss, however.
Referring to Japan's Myanmar policy, Aung Soe Moe said, "Japan is a longtime provider of development aid to Myanmar, which we appreciate. But people in Myanmar and Myanmar citizens in Japan are concerned that such aid may be diverted to fund the Tatmadaw."
"They would also like the Japanese government to cut ties with military-linked businesses in Myanmar."
Having been aware of Japan's policy of engaging with the junta in an effort to change its behavior, Aung Soe Moe agrees with the Myanmar people's call for Tokyo to make its position clear about whether it stands with Myanmar's democratic forces or the junta.
"Myanmar people have high expectations of the Japanese government and people," he said. "When the situation normalizes, I would like to get back to regular forms of diplomatic activity."
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