On Monday, in one of the deadliest days since the military coup began in Myanmar, at least 20 people were killed in the city of Yangon. The latest killings have taken the death toll to at least 130. “It is like living in a war zone, in which only one side has guns, and every day is more willing to use them against innocent protesters,” a spokesperson from human rights NGO Freedom of Expression Myanmar (FEM) told Eat News.
Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, has been the location of many protests and bloodshed following the coup that erupted on February 1st. Friday saw an additional nine pro-democracy activists killed by the military junta, who have been using shoot-to-kill tactics. “The military has got increasingly violent over the past few days,” the Yangon-based FEM spokesperson, who preferred not to be named due to security concerns, described.
On International Women’s day, around 200 protestors were cornered in a township overnight by security forces in Yangon. Six weeks after the conflict began, at least 40 protestors were arrested and taken away, with some managing to escape as police numbers waned through the night. United Nations (UN) secretary-general Antonio Guterres said that many of those trapped on Monday had been women who were marching in support of International Women’s Day. The UN appealed to the military for their “safe release”.
“The military has shown that they do not respect the human rights of the people at all. Their blatant disregard for democracy and human rights will be their downfall because the general public can now see their true colours,” the FEM spokesperson continued. Over 2258 people have been arrested as political prisoners in the protests so far, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said. The UN chief has “strongly condemned” the violence, adding that “the use of lethal force against peaceful protestors and arbitrary arrests are unacceptable”.
“The civil disobedience movement encourages all police to disobey orders and lay down their weapons,” the FEM spokesperson added. There has been an increasing number of reports of unarmed police crossing the border into India, to escape taking orders from the military junta. Protestors have been non-violent in the face of senseless killing. In a rare incidence on Wednesday, protestors armed themselves with slingshots and threw Molotov cocktails at authorities after coming under fire.
Myanmar plunged into unrest when its former leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested following a general election win, amid claims from the military that the election was fraudulent. Since then, Suu Kyi has awaited her court hearing which has been postponed after the military blocked the internet, to stall the spread of information earlier this month. “There’s no court hearing because there’s no internet and the hearing is conducted by video conference. We cannot do video,” her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told news outlets. The former leader faces at least four charges and is expected to appear digitally in court on March 24th.
Suu Kyi, once a champion for democracy, has suffered a drastic fall from grace since she was awarded a Nobel Peace prize in 1991. Suu Kyi spent a near 15 years under house arrest, in her bid to bring democracy to military-led Myanmar between 1989 and 2010. However, after successfully establishing democracy in the former British colony, Suu Kyi failed to quell growing accusations of the Rohingya facing a genocidal regime at the hands of the military.
Support for Myanmar’s democracy pioneer is complex but seemingly necessary in the face of a brutal military coup. When asked how the former leader went from being awarded a Nobel prize to being accused of not preventing genocide, the spokesperson told Eat News that the answer was outside of the organisations mandate on free speech.
Freedom of Expression Myanmar has called on international communities to support the civilians, as the violence has triggered an exodus from Yangon.
As a result of the coup, companies have begun to distance themselves from the region in attempts to cut the military’s financial supply. The UN World Food Programme has warned of a “very serious” economic crisis in Myanmar as food and fuel prices have surged amid the unrest.
“Democracy must be restored and can only be restored by the people of Myanmar with the support of the international community. The military has no public support in Myanmar at all, and we must ensure that their international support ends,” the FEM spokesperson stated.
Members of the Myanmar parliament, who were removed by the military, have been exploring whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate any crimes against humanity after Friday’s killings.
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