Protesters accuse China of backing Myanmar generals, but analysts say Beijing does not favour a return to military rule.
Myanmar’s military has ordered more arrests, with nearly 500 individuals facing charges or sentenced to jail in relation to the burgeoning protests and civil disobedience movement following the February 1 coup, as protesters return to the streets on Thursday following a massive demonstration the previous day.
Some 495 civilian political leaders, activists and protesters have so far been detained or charged, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking detentions in the country over the past two weeks, said in an update on Wednesday night.
Three people have already been convicted to two years in jail and a third for three months, the group said. Some 460 people remain in detention.
Among those arrested in recent days was a regional minister of environment in Mandalay, while four train operators and two others were reportedly taken at gunpoint by the military, and three were arrested by police in Rakhine.
Eight civil servants were also put on trial on Wednesday for going on strike as part of a growing civil disobedience movement.
It is unclear if the AAPP list includes six celebrities, who are said to have been charged for inciting strikes that have paralysed many government offices. Those charges can carry up to two years in jail.
Some of those detained were defiant.
“It’s incredible to witness that our people are unified. People’s power must return to the people,” actor Lu Min wrote on his Facebook page.
The Defend Lawyers website also reported that at least 40 barristers could face prosecution for participating in the anti-coup movement. Many of the country’s lawyers have join the Red Ribbon Campaign calling for the restoration of democracy in the country.
On Thursday, the demonstrators returned to the streets for the 13th straight day of nationwide protests against the coup leaders.
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) February 18, 2021
In the capital, Naypyidaw, a group of engineers in motorcycles joined a convoy of protesters and demanded that the government release the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. They were joined by other protesters from the Civil Disobedience Movement.
In the country’s largest city of Yangon, protesters also started pouring into the streets, with student groups and workers from different ethnic minorities also expected to join the crowds.
On social media, images have started to circulate on Thursday showing several people, some in the orange robe of monks, carrying sticks and smashing cars of protesters in Yangon.
In the city of Mandalay, protesters on horseback paraded the streets of the country’s second largest city, carrying red flags in support of the ousted civilian leaders.
Meanwhile, the group Doctors Without Borders (also known as MSF) said on Thursday that it is “gravely concerned” about the recent arrests and detentions of health care workers and other civilians.
Nationalist monks are now on the streets! Photos show that the nationalist/fake monks have destroyed the private cars in the daylight near Shwedagon Pagoda this morning. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/tO4WuwVy66
— Mratt Kyaw Thu (@mrattkthu) February 18, 2021
It said the government’s actions “have the potential to severely interrupt the lifesaving health care” that MSF and others have been providing to some of the most vulnerable people in the country, particularly in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We see this crisis brings real fears, expressed by so many of our colleagues, and worry for the immediate and long-term effects on public health and general safety.”
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the biggest anti-coup demonstrations since the generals detained Aung San Suu Kyi and the popularly elected government to seize power more than two weeks ago.
The generals have claimed fraud in the November election that was won by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide, saying they will hold new elections at an unspecified date. The elections commission has rejected claims of fraud.
The rallies have brought sporadic incidents of violence.
The AAPP accused the military and the police in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city, of destroying a house belonging to one of the anti-coup protesters, leaving at least one person injured.
There were also reports that government forces opened fire at protesters and striking railway workers in Mandalay late on Wednesday.
Early on Thursday, there were also reports that hackers had attacked military-run websites as the internet was shut down for a fourth straight night.
A group called Myanmar Hackers disrupted multiple government websites including the Central Bank, the Myanmar military, state-run broadcaster MRTV, the Port Authority and the Food and Drug Administration.
“We are fighting for justice in Myanmar,” the group of hackers said on its Facebook page.
“It is like mass protesting of people in front of government websites.”
Another internet shutdown began in Myanmar at about 1:00am local time on Thursday (18:30 GMT on Wednesday), according to NetBlocks, a United Kingdom-based group that monitors internet disruption and outages around the world. It said the service was once again restored eight hours later.
“The practice is detrimental to public safety and incites confusion, fear and distress in difficult times,” NetBlocks said on Twitter.