Myanmar protesters keep pressure on military

Mass demonstrations that sent hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in Myanmar are showing no signs of stopping more than a week after the military launched a coup and seized the country’s leader, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Along with President Win Myint and hundreds of government officials and activists, Ms. Suu Kyi was arrested after the military said her National League for Democracy party won the November 2020 general election because of widespread fraud.

It was only the second-such election since the end of five decades of military rule. The first elections were held in 2015 and also were won by Ms. Suu Kyi’s party.

“Several face criminal charges on dubious grounds. Most have received no form of due process and have not been permitted legal representation, family visitations or communication,” U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said Friday during an address to the U.N. Human Rights Council. “Some remain missing, with no information as to their whereabouts or well-being.”

Armored cars were seen in the country’s most populous city, Yangon. According to local media, trains in other parts of the country stopped running after employees refused to go back to work.

President Biden has called on coup leaders to immediately release political leaders such as Ms. Suu Kyi and recognize the will of the people by accepting the results of the Nov. 8 election.

“Violence against those asserting their democratic rights is unacceptable and we’re going to keep calling it out,” Mr. Biden said last week. “The people of Burma are making their voices heard and the world is watching.”

The White House says it is prepared to impose additional measures against the military leaders in addition to redirecting more than $42 million of assistance away from work that would have benefited the government. The funding will instead be forwarded to projects to “support and strengthen civil society,” Biden administration officials said.

The military leaders suspended laws against searching private property and requiring a court order for detaining people longer than 24 hours. Also, the coup has resulted in the return of a law requiring residents to report any guests staying overnight. Failure to do so could result in arrest. The move is widely seen as a means to harass protest leaders moving from house-to-house for their own safety.

The crackdown in Myanmar is leaving residents feeling insecure and anxious about what will happen next, Myanmar watchers are saying.

“Security forces are raiding people’s residences in many places across the country and trying to arrest those who are against the military junta,” said BBC journalist Nyein Chan Aye. “People are protecting each other, staying up late at night.”

Some residents in the larger cities have taken to banging together pots and pans to warn their neighbors that the police are in the area.

But even as the number of demonstrators has risen, police and military presence in Myanmar has grown over the last several days. Pro-military and other nationalist groups also have taken to the streets.

“The Myanmar junta’s dragnet is rapidly expanding, so international pressure is urgently needed to gain the detainees’ immediate release,” said Manny Maunt, a researcher with Human Rights Watch focusing on Myanmar. “The military is back to its old game of targeted arrests and arbitrary detentions in an attempt to instill widespread fear.”

The military junta also is accused of deploying vehicle-mounted electronic jamming devices in order to disrupt communications between protesters.

“This and other disturbing reports from night-time raids by police or looting and arson by unknown mobs did not stop people from different backgrounds and regions, including civil servants staging peaceful protests,” according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP,) a Thailand-based pro-democracy group.

Protesters said the junta leaders appear to be emptying jails of non-political criminals in the aftermath of the coup, issuing an amnesty on Friday that resulted in the release of more than 23,000 prisoners.

“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,” AAPP officials said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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