Myanmar authorities snatched a doctor from his clinic and rounded up bureaucrats as the ruling junta moved to arrest professionals and state staffers for joining days of growing mass protests against military rule in scores of cities across the country in defiance of crowd limits, curfews, and increasing shows of force by police.
Crowds in the big cities of Yangon, Mandalay, and the capital Nyapyidaw have topped six figures for several days, and were still growing on the 12th day since the military deposed and arrested leader Aung San Suu Kyi, suspended parliament, and imposed a one-year period of emergency rule.
U.N. rights officials are tracking more than 350 politicians and state officials, activists, civil society members, journalists, monks, and students who have been taken into custody, Nada Al-Nashif, deputy U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Friday.
The Feb. 1 seizure of power by the military over claims that last November’s election was fraudulent “constitutes a profound setback for the country, after a decade of hard-won gains in its democratic transition,” he said.
The junta has detained 220 government officials and members of civil society, including Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and members of the Union Election Commission, said Thomas Andrews, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.
“Many of these detentions have occurred in the dark of night and many times by plain-clothed police,” he told a special session on Myanmar at the Human Rights Council on Friday.
“These actions are a violation of the basic right to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention. The military must release them all immediately,” said Andrews.
The U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution denouncing the 12-day-old military coup and subsequent violations of civil and human rights.
The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP) on Friday put the number those arrested and detained in relation to the coup at 326, with three having been sentenced and 23 others released.
As part of an amnesty by the military regime, more than 23,000 prisoners, including many drug offenders and four political prisoners, were released Friday in honor of Myanmar’s Union Day, according to the AAPP.
“There is a genuine worry that this amnesty is being used to make space in prisons to detain more political prisoners, and that the released prisoners will be called up to engage in the pro-military counter-protest movement,” the group said in a statement on its website.
Workers from Myanmar’s Forestry Department hold signs calling for the release of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint in Naypyidaw, Feb. 11, 2021. Credit: RFA
‘They took him away so fast’
Despite a ban on public gatherings of more than five people and increased security, mass protests against the military junta drew tens of thousands of people in cities across the country of 54 million that is the size of France or Texas.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in three main area of Yangon — in front of City Hall, at the Hledan junction near Yangon University, and at the Myae Ni Gone junction — while smaller rallies were held in other townships.
Protests continued in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, and in Naypyidaw where government workers, attorneys, medical personnel, and education workers joined rallies.
“We are participating to show support for government staffers who are participating in civil disobedience movement campaigns,” said a lawyer at the scene. “We encourage government workers to defy the military regime regardless of what it has announced. We are campaigning to protect them in accordance with the law.”
On Thursday, some government workers in Naypyidaw reported that senior officials had pressured and threatened them to abandon the civil disobedience movement and return to work. Others who participated in rallies and strikes were detained overnight by security forces who forcefully entered their homes.
Military regime leader Senior General Gen Min Aung Hlaing warned in a speech on Thursday that civil servants who failed to carry out their duties at work due to instigation by disruptive forces would be dealt with severely.
Thet Thet Khine, a history professor at Meikhtila University in Mandalay region, told RFA that soldiers on Thursday night arrested mathematics professor Aung Kyaw Min who had participated in the movement.
Soldiers who arrived in seven military vehicles asked young men at the university’s front gate at gunpoint for keys to the professor’s quarters, she said.
“They took him away so fast that his wife and son didn’t even realize it,” she said.
Authorities in Ayeyarwady region arrested Dr. Pyi Pyi Naing around 3 p.m. while he was seeing a patient at his private clinic in Ingapu township, a resident said
“A group of men in mufti took him away in a car, and local residents followed it,” he said. “They found the car at the Ingapu police station and demanded that he be freed, but they couldn’t find the doctor there.”
Myanmar engineers march along a road during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw, Feb. 11, 2021. Credit: RFA
Police fire at protesters
In southern Mon state’s capital Mawlamyine, police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators and arrested student leaders and supporters, injuring three people, according to news reports.
“The police have arrested nine of our protesting students this morning,” said a student demonstrator who requested anonymity for security reasons. We are now staging a sit-in protest against the authorities. We will leave only when they release our detained friends.”
Meanwhile, a doctor treating Naypyidaw protester Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing, who was shot in the head by police on Tuesday, confirmed that the 20-year-old woman died in the hospital, though her family refused to have her taken off life support after a failed attempt to remove the bullet fragment from her brain.
“We pronounced her brain dead,” said a doctor from the 1,000-bed hospital where she was being treated. “We informed her family and asked them when we should take her off the life support machine.”
The military regime denied that riot control police uses live bullets against protesters, but an x-ray provided by the hospital showed a metal bullet lodged in the young woman’s head.
Saung Hnin Wai, a protester in Thandwe town in western Rakhine state, said police there began cracking down on peaceful demonstrators Friday morning, detaining one person.
“They hit two kids who were holding flags and marching at the front,” she told RFA. “Then, they tried to disperse the crowd. As the protestors withdrew from the scene, a police vehicle tried to drive into the crowd at a road junction.”
A man tried to use his motorbike to block the single police car accompanied by military vehicles, but authorities arrested him, she added.
In Kengtung, a town in eastern Shan state, authorities nabbed six protesters on Tuesday and another two on Thursday amid a growing number of arrests in various cities, a local High Court lawyer said.
“This civil disobedience movement can be interpreted as a people’s duty to repel unjust laws,” he said. “The military is itself breaking the law by arresting people who have the right to freely protest. They don’t have the right to make these arrests. This is the nature of these military takeovers. From their point of view they think they are right, but in the view of the people this is not right. “
Tun Win and Thingyan Moe, two assistant managers at the Civil Aviation Department in Yangon were arrested around 11 p.m. Thursday night along with deputy general manager Aung Zaw Thein for taking part in the civil disobedience movement, their families said.
In Mandalay, police, armed soldiers, and local authorities tried to arrest Dr. Khin Maung Lwin, rector of the Institute of Medicine, after midnight, but they had to turn back when residents drove them away, a source close to the family said. The rector managed to escape custody.
Cybersecurity law in the works
Fears are growing that the military regime will enact a repressive cybersecurity law that would require online service providers to store user data at a location accessible to the government.
The ruling State Administrative Council installed after the Feb. 1 coup submitted a draft law to telecommunications operators on Tuesday and requested their input by Feb. 15.
The draft law requires online service providers to retain users’ names, IP addresses, phone numbers, ID card numbers, and physical addresses for up to three years in a yet to be designated place and to provide the data to authorities when requested “under any existing law,” according to New York-based Human Rights Watch
Online service providers also are required to block or remove information if instructed by authorities, which would allow military authorities to remove any content they don’t like, HRW said.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Khun Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.