Sunday, 28 February, 2021

Amid Fear of Arrest, Protests Maintain Steam Despite Myanmar Junta Tightening Laws

Much of the country has been in uproar since last week when soldiers detained Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted her government Much of the country has been in uproar since last week when soldiers detained Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted her government
Sandy Nunez | 15 February, 2021, 19:07

The military seized power on February 1, detaining the country's elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her government and preventing recently elected lawmakers from opening a new session of Parliament.

But fresh protests again flared in the city, including near the central bank where troops were deployed. There is historical precedent, as the military released convicts to carry out violence and cause chaos in 1988 during a failed popular uprising against a military dictatorship. "We want to establish a real federal union where all citizens, all ethnicities are treated equally".

The unrest has revived memories of bloody outbreaks of opposition to nearly half a century of direct army rule over the Southeast Asian nation, which ended in 2011, when the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics.

Soldiers fired tear gas then shot at a crowd who gathered in Myitkyina to stop a rumoured shutdown of the northern city's electricity grid.A journalist at the scene said it was unclear how many had been injured in the incident.

Parts of the country had in recent days formed neighbourhood watch brigades to monitor their communities and prevent the arrests of residents joining the civil disobedience movement.

On Sunday evening, armoured vehicles appeared in Yangon, Myitkyina and Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, the first large-scale rollout of such vehicles across the country since the coup.

Between the lines: "The announcements bore echoes of the near half-century of military rule before reforms began, when the Southeast Asian country was one of the world's most repressive and isolated states", Reuters noted.

In Nay Pyi Taw, over 30 student protesters were arrested by police. As night fell, there were videos and other reports on social media of the movement of trucks packed with soldiers, and in the central city of Mandalay as well.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have filled the streets of Myanmar's biggest cities in defiance of a strict curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than four people, holding signs with pro-democracy slogans, many of them with pictures of Suu Kyi.

Two days after the putsch, the 75-year-old Nobel laureate was hit with the unusual charge of violating Myanmar's import and export law, after a search of her house found walkie-talkies.

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There have been 194 cases announced since Monday, accounting for almost all of the province's current active cases. There are now 260 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, most of those cases reported this week alone.

Suu Kyi's custody period was expected to expire today, but her lawyer said Monday that she has been remanded until 17 February, citing a judge.

The government and army could not be reached for comment.

The Assistance Association for Former Political Prisoners, a Myanmar monitoring group, said at least 384 people have been detained across the country since the coup, mostly in night raids.

On Sunday, the military published penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent and residents reported an internet outage after midnight on Sunday which lasted until about 9 am.

"It's as if the generals have declared war on the people", U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said on Twitter.

Mass street demonstrations in Myanmar entered their second week Saturday, with neither protesters nor the military government they seek to unseat showing any signs of backing down from confrontations.

"These are signs of desperation". Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, promised last week in a nationally televised speech that new elections would be held to bring a "true and disciplined democracy", but did not specify when they would take place.

Last week, the 47-member United Nations human rights council adopted a resolution calling on the dictatorship to release Suu Kyi, along with officials, and refrain from using violence on protesters. The electoral commission had dismissed the army's complaints.

Hindering the security forces carrying out their duties is punishable by seven years in prison while spreading fear, fake news or agitating against government employees gets three years, according to the amendments posted on a military website.