Violent suppression of Myanmar demonstrations killed 15 people Thursday, raising the death toll from five weeks of street protests to 73, as the military junta announced a corruption investigation of leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other top officials from the deposed civilian government.
Accusations by the military regime that Aung San Suu Kyi had accepted U.S. $600,000 and more than 25 pounds of gold, swiftly dismissed as “totally baseless” by an MP from her National League for Democracy (NLD), add to a list of charges imposed on the 75-year-old leader since she was ousted and detained on Feb. 1.
While the military pressed its case against Aung San Suu Kyi and other top NLD figures at a news conference in Naypyidaw, violent crackdowns by police and soldiers killed at least 15 protesters in the cities of Yangon, Myaing, Mandalay, Myingyan, and Bago. The confirmed death toll tis now 73, according to an RFA tally.
In Yangon’s North Dagon township, 25-year-old Chit Min Thu died instantly when police shot him in the head while defending fellow protesters with a homemade shield witnesses said. Two others were hit by gunfire, one of whom is in critical condition.
“We had to run because they were using live rounds, and he was shielding us from the front to protect other protesters behind,” said a demonstrator at the scene.
Supporters held an impromptu vigil for Chit Min Thu, who left behind a wife who is two months pregnant.
In Myaing, a town in Magway region, six protesters were killed and another 10 were wounded when security forces fired into crowds, locals said.
“I saw six people die and about a dozen get injured,” said a man at the scene who did not give his name. “One of the injured was in critical condition and was sent to Monywa General Hospital.”
Security forces intentionally resorted to excess violence to cause harm to peaceful protesters, using tear gas and gunfire, said a university student in Myaing.
Myanmar anti-junta protesters gather for a rally in Hlaingthaya township, Yangon region, March 11, 2021. Credit: RFA
‘Not only words of support’
Police and soldiers in Myanmar’s second-largest city Mandalay killed one man and wounded 30 others when they cracked down on protesters near the Koe Lone Dagar Pagoda, witnesses said. At least 20 protesters were arrested in the incident.
In Myingyan, in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region, residents said a man shot during a protest Wednesday died of his injuries Thursday.
In Bago region, one man died by police gunfire and another was hit in the leg, though his wound was not life-threatening, a witness said.
Residents in Kalaymyo, Sagaing region, continued protest marches despite a police crackdown on Wednesday. Five people there already have been arrested, including one who was taken from his home during the night, locals said.
The Myanmar junta’s response to peaceful protests likely meets the legal threshold for crimes against humanity, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar told the Human Rights Council on Thursday.
“The people of Myanmar need not only words of support but supportive action,” said Tom Andrews in a statement. “They need the help of the international community, now.”
The appeal came a day after the U.N. Security Council issued its strongest statement since the Feb. 1 coup.
“The Security Council strongly condemns the violence against peaceful protestors, including against women, youth and children,” the statement said.
It also called for the “immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily” in a statement that was agreed after accepting the objections of China, Russia, and Vietnam to language calling the takeover “a coup.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the two adult children of coup leader and commander-in-chief of the military forces, Min Aung Hlaing, as well as six companies of his two adult children. Min Aung Hlaing was placed on the U.S. blacklist on Feb. 11.
“The indiscriminate violence by Burma’s security forces against peaceful protesters is unacceptable,” said Andrea Gacki, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, in a statement.
“The United States will continue to work with our international partners to press the Burmese military and police to cease all violence against peaceful protestors and to restore democracy and the rule of law in Burma,” she added.
Myanmar Buddhist monks stage a sit-in to protest the rule of the military junta in Hlaingthaya township, Yangon region, March 11, 2021. Credit: RFA
Corruption probes begin
At a news conference in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, regime spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun accused Aung San Suu Kyi of accepting U.S. $600,000 and more than 25 pounds of gold from detained Yangon region chief Phyo Min Thein between December 2017 and March 2018. He also accused President Win Myint and other state and regional chief ministers of bribery.
“It has been learned that Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi herself received that $600,000 and seven viss of gold, and now the Anti-Corruption Commission has opened an investigation into this,” Zaw Min Tun told reporters. A viss is a traditional unit of measure equivalent to 3.6 pounds.
Zaw Min Tin also accused the Committee Representing Pyihtaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a shadow parliament formed by lawmakers elected in the November 2020 vote that the junta claims was marred by irregularities, for misleading youths who lost their lives following the Feb. 1 coup.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces four other charges for alleged incitement, violation of telecommunication laws, possession of “illegally” imported walkie-talkies, and violation of the Natural Disaster Management Law for breaching COVID-19 pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign. The charges carry up to nine years in jail.
“This is a violation of conduct, and it not in accordance with the law,” said Kyee Myint, a High Court lawyer.
“I believe these are totally baseless accusations,” said Myint Oo, an NLD lawmaker representing a Bago constituency. “They have always stated blatant lies.”
Authorities also stepped up a crackdown on the media, with 37 journalists arrested by authorities since the Feb. 1 coup, of which 22 have been released.
Six of the remaining 15 journalists will go on trial via video conference Friday on charges of defamation and incitement for their reporting on the anti-military protests, their lawyers said.
Those facing trial are Kay Zun Nway from Myanmar Now, Thein Zaw from the Associated Press, Ye Myo Khant from Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, Aung Ye Ko from 7Day News, freelance reporters Banyar Oo and Thint Myat Zaw, and Hein Pyae Zaw of Zaygwet Journal.
Still in detention are Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporters Aung Kyaw and Min Nyo, Ye Yint Tun of Than Daw Sint News, Kyaw Nay Min from the Choon Journal, freelance reporter Pyay Phyo, Kamayut Media chief editor Nathan Maung and co-founder Hanthar Nyein. It was not known where they are being held and what charges they are facing.
On Monday, the military council officially banned Mizzima, DVB, 7Day News, Myanmar Now, and Khit Thit News following earlier raids on the offices of Mizzima and Myanmar Now. Security forces raided the offices of Khit Thit Media and Kamayut Media on Tuesday.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.