30.01.2023

Troops seen on streets and internet cut as protests continue

Armoured vehicles appeared in Myanmar’s largest city and the internet was shut down as protesters continued to protest against the military coup.

The sighting of personnel carriers in the streets of Yangon was taken as a sign that the army was preparing to crack down on opposition to its seizure of power two weeks ago.

It prompted the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar to accuse generals of “declaring war” on the people.

“Late night raids; mounting arrests; more rights stripped away; another internet shutdown; military convoys entering communities. These are signs of desperation. Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable,” Tom Andrews tweeted.

Ambassadors from the US, Canada and Europe called on Myanmar’s security forces to “refrain from violence against demonstrators protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government”.

“We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace, and prosperity,” they said in a joint statement on Sunday. “The world is watching.”

They also condemned the arrests of political leaders and activists as well as the military’s interference with communications. Broadband and mobile internet services appear to have been cut from 1am local time on Monday.

The coup began on 1 February when the military detained Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her government.

Since then Ms Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest after being charged with minor offences relating to the alleged importation of walkie-talkies without the proper licence and for shaking hands during the coronavirus pandemic.

The remand order is due to expire on Monday and a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, is supposed to take action on her case.

Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer asked by Ms Suu Kyi’s party to represent her, said he was uncertain if it would go ahead as he has not been able to make contact with the deposed leader.

Protests were held in Naypyitaw and the large cities of Yangon and Mandalay on Sunday, with some demonstrators holding unofficial memorial services for a young woman who was shot during a rally last week and remains on life support.

The street demonstrations are estimated to have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to the streets despite the threat of six months in jail for violating an order banning gatherings of five or more people.

Further orders suspending several basic civil liberties were issued by the military on Saturday night to allow the authorities to carry out searches and make arrests without court warrants. They also allow the interception of electronic and other communications without a warrant and permits the detention of detainees for more than 24 hours without court permission.

An order which circulated on social media and appears to be from the Ministry of Transport and Communications told mobile phone service providers to shut down internet connections from 1am to 9am on Monday.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says 400 people have been detained since the coup, with 375 still being held.

Detainees have included political leaders, government officials, civil servants, activists and student leaders. Medical personnel have been singled out because their community initiated the civil disobedience campaign against the military takeover.

The military junta, led by senior general Min Aung Hlaing, has claimed the civilian government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s election, which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide.

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