It has been over three weeks since the illegitimate and unlawful coup d’état was surmounted by the Myanmar military. As reported in the previous Weekly Highlights, the peaceful condemnation and resistance from the people of Myanmar against the military junta is gaining momentum and strength with diversified tactics and actions of non-violence. In the past week, the military and police have reacted through violent crackdowns on protesters and journalists, conducted a series of mob-type night raids and unlawful arrests against prominent activists, ordering overnight internet blackouts and instituted a series of draconian laws to silence dissenting voices.
The Civil Disobedience Movement has seen hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life peacefully protesting in the streets, including civil servants, politicians, medical professionals, engineers, and even police officers. The response by security forces to peaceful protesters has been severe and is escalating in its brutality. Over the weekend of 13 February, tanks, armoured vehicles and soldiers were deployed into Yangon, Mandalay, Sittwe, Myitkyina and other major centers. Terrifying videos and accounts of unwarranted violence have surfaced on social media and news outlets. Instances of shots fired forcefully into crowds as well as tear gas and water cannons, were reported at a power plant in Myitkyina. Seven people, including five journalists and two local residents were arrested and were only released conditional on them giving confessions. In another incident in Mawlamyine, Mon State on 12 February, police shot rubber bullets at protesters, badly injuring three people and arresting nine protesters.
These incidents of violence have been coupled with a spate of unlawful and arbitrary arrests related to the coup during curfew hours, a tactic to stamp out and deter free speech, protests and activism. The main targets of the arrests are civil servants and public sector workers who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement, while a manhunt continues for those political activists and public figures in hiding. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reports a total of 640 people have been arrested and detained in connection with the coup, as of 21 February 2021. This includes more than 80 Union Election Commission officials who have been rounded up without charges from all over Myanmar and transported to the military’s Bayintnaung Camp, northern Karen State, for questioning in relation to the election, which the military alleges was fraudulent. In addition to these arrests, the military junta has been systematically targeting politicians, activists, protesters and human rights defenders often under the cover of darkness and arbitrarily arresting them without providing the reason for any charges, or providing their families with details on their whereabouts and conditions in detention. Heroically, neighborhood groups have sprung up to block the arrest of activists targeted during attempted arrests, by spilling onto the streets and protecting those in danger of arrest. Of grave concern is the release of over 23,000 prisoners as part of the Union Day amnesty, which some fear is to make space for political prisoners, as well as to recruit released prisoners to incite violence against the Civil Disobedience Movement alongside security forces, a ploy used by the military in the lead up to violent crackdowns during the 1988 Uprising.
In another attempt to quash dissidence, the military has issued arrest warrants under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, against seven popular activists for joining and supporting protesters, including 88 generation activist Min Ko Naing who was imprisoned for a total of twenty years under the previous military regime for his political activism. Harking back to this era, the military is denying many of those arrested basic human rights, justice and fairness, such as the right to a lawyer, being deprived of liberty without a charge, interrogations and forcing confessions and depriving a defendant of a fair trial based on the presumption of innocence and the rule of law.
As part of their assault on human rights and democracy, the military has also introduced sweeping and vaguely worded amendments to the Penal Code. For instance, it is an offence to show hatred, contempt, disaffection towards the Defence Service (Section 124A) or to sabotage or hinder (Section 124C) the Defence Services, carrying a maximum twenty year prison sentence, fine or both. It is very unclear what kind of actions would trigger these offences given the ambiguity of the language. It is foreseeable that it could be construed to include yelling out or having signage saying the military illegitimately grabbed power, protesting or ‘drumming out evil’ – a tradition that represents chasing evil out of their homes by banging on pots and pans. Another amendment makes it an offense to spread “fake news” or “fear” amongst the public or to directly or indirectly “agitate” a government employee under Section 505(a), which carries a maximum of three years in prison, fine or both. In addition to the amendments, the military junta has suspended articles of the Privacy Law which protected citizens against authorities searches, seizures and arrests without a warrant. The military has the power to compel telecommunication providers to intercept correspondence in an attempt to punish ‘Thought Crimes’. Another rollback on citizens freedoms privacy comes in the form of the reinstatement of repealed provisions of the 2012 Ward or Village Tract Administration Law, which requires overnight guests to be reported to local authorities, which was used by the previous military junta to search houses and arrest without a warrant. These draconian measures have no valid legal basis because the military power grab itself was unconstitutional, according to expert analysis on Myanmar’s Constitution.
In light of these alarming developments it is imperative that the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the international community at large take immediate and substantial punitive measures against the military junta and support people’s pro-democracy and anti-coup movements by imposing targeted sanctions against the leadership of the Myanmar military, their family members and two military conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) – and crony businesses such as KBZ. In an open letter, 177 Myanmar civil society organizations (CSO) urgently call upon the UN Security Council to immediately adopt measures for enhanced monitoring and intervention, including dispatching a delegation to Myanmar to mediate between all parties to respond to the political crisis and to protect people on the ground. Furthermore, they call on the UNSC to take urgent measures to ensure that the military junta immediately release all those who have been detained, cease the use of violence, unlawful use of water cannons, use of live ammunition against protesters, cease arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances and halt ongoing offensives in ethnic areas. The letter reiterates the calls of the protesters, that only with the realization of equality for ethnic people through constitutional change, sustainable peace and the protection of human rights for all, will a genuine federal democratic union come to fruition. This has sparked a petition demanding the letter’s aims be heard. As time wears on, the military’s desperation grows greater. Substantial and urgently applied responses by the UNSC and the international community are required given the severity of the quickly evolving and worrying situation on the ground with the junta’s escalating use of violence, arbitrary arrests, enactment of draconian laws, all in an attempt to suppress the people’s peaceful movement against a brutal and illegitimate coup and to restore democracy.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”