Kuala Lumpur, 23 June 2021
Myanmar remains on a watchlist of countries that have seen a recent and rapid decline in fundamental democratic freedoms. More than four months following the illegal attempted coup by the military the assault on civic space has persisted with the arrest and detention of activists and protesters, the use of excessive force and firearms against protesters and disruption to the internet.
The watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 196 countries.
Since February 2021, thousands have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and attacked including human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, political and student activists, poets, writers and monks. Many are facing baseless charges including ‘treason’ which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison or ‘incitement’. There have also been reports of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, and of deaths in custody.
“We are extremely concerned about the arbitrary detention and attacks on human rights activists and other protesters following the coup, many who have been denied access to lawyers and are facing trumped up charges. The international community must do more to push for their release and support and protect activists who are at risk of arrest and ill-treatment at this time” said Josef Benedict from CIVICUS.
Since the illegal attempted coup, mass protests and strikes have been taking place across Myanmar by the civil disobedience movement (CDM). In order to avoid arrest, protests became progressively more creative. In response, the Myanmar security forces intensified their crackdown on protests using violent crowd dispersal techniques including assault rifles, light machine guns, sniper rifles and live grenades. Large numbers of battle-hardened troops have been deployed into towns and cities to quell the protests. The junta has also deployed airstrikes or shelling in several regions. Hundreds of people have been killed including children and thousands injured.
“The military has been using extremely brutal methods. Shooting people in the head, arresting and torturing protesters. They believe if they do such things, people will be silent. However, the civil disobedience movement is continuing to mobilise and people are showing dissatisfaction in different ways and refusing to cooperate with the military”, said Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner and co-founder of the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP) who has been documenting the arrests and killings since the coup.
Journalists are also being hunted down and targeted by the military. According to reports, as of 21 May, 88 journalists have been arrested since the coup, the majority detained during newsroom raids or while covering anti-coup street protests. The internet shutdowns, which began following the coup, have now reached a new level of severity to interfere with protestor organising and to make it harder for citizens, journalists and human rights activists to broadcast to the rest of the world what’s happening on the ground.
While numerous countries have condemned the illegal attempted coup and some countries such as the EU and US have imposed sanctions, there have been weak regional efforts to address the crisis or halt the serious human rights violations. ASEAN adopted a relatively weak consensus agreement to end the violence and open up dialogue, following a meeting of the regional body in Jakarta in April 2021, but progress has been virtually non-existent.
“The junta has bombed and set fire on villages reducing them to ashes in North, East and West of ethnic border regions and in upper Myanmar, displacing over 330,000 people since it’s unlawful attempted coup, while committing sexual violence against women and LGBTIQ+ persons in detention. Their actions constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, and they must immediately be held to account”, said Khin Ohmar from Khin Ohmar, Chairperson of Progressive Voice
Myanmar is currently rated REPRESSED by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 45 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see full description of ratings).
For more details, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for Asia-Pacific, CIVICUS
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