The international envoy for Myanmar’s overthrown civilian government has remained defiant after the military, which seized power in a coup on February 1, charged him with high treason.
Myanmar military-run television said the envoy, who goes only by the name Dr Sasa, was accused of encouraging a civil disobedience campaign and of calling for international sanctions and the overthrow of the generals.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from an unknown overseas location due to safety concerns, Sasa said civilians taking part in mass anti-coup protests would soon have no choice but to “defend themselves” in the face of an increasingly brutal crackdown that has seen more than 180 people killed by security forces.
“Today, I am proud to have been charged with high treason by the military junta, if this treason means that I am standing with the people of Myanmar, giving my life for their freedom, for federal democracy and for justice,” said Sasa, who was appointed as a “special envoy” to the United Nations by a committee representing Myanmar’s parliament.
‘Bloodshed and suffering’
The military said it took power because of alleged fraud in last November’s election, which returned civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power for a second five-year term, in a landslide. The elections commission has rejected the claims.
The generals, who detained many members of the commission alongside Aung San Suu Kyi and senior NLD officials last month, have said they will hold a new vote, but have not set a date.
Last month’s power grab brought Myanmar’s democratic transition to a halt, some 10 years after it began.
“This illegal, illegitimate regime has been committing crimes against humanity, atrocities and genocides,” Sasa said.
“Throughout our history of independence, there has been bloodsheds and suffering across the country by those who are [meant] to protect our people,” he added.
“These are the same generals who should be charged with high treason, the ones who charged me with high treason,” he said.
Sasa said while he was unable to return home because he would face a death sentence, his fellow countrymen would continue to defy the military.
“The people of Myanmar have been forced to defend themselves if the international community do not do any actions against the same military generals who have been committing crimes against humanity every day,” said Sasa, warning the situation will only get worse.
“We are calling on the international community to act quickly before it is too late because the bloodshed will continue,” he added.
‘We will keep on, until the very end’
Dozens of protesters were killed on Sunday in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon, in the bloodiest day since the anti-coup protest began. More were killed on Monday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking detentions and deaths.
“The soldiers … will shoot people because they can, as simple as that,” a protester in Yangon, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to safety concerns, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
“On Sunday, there was the most brutal crackdown there [in Yangon’s Hlaing Thar Yar township]. More than 50 people died and more than 300 got injured. They used machine guns, snipers and live bullets. There were dead bodies all around,” the protester continued, adding that the civil uprising would continue despite the threat to their lives.
“We will keep on, until the very end. They’ve been getting more violent, so we are well aware we are putting our bodies on the line.”
Amid the rising death toll, human rights groups are urging the international community to impose a global arms embargo, as well as more severe sanctions on the generals behind the coup, and the military’s sprawling business conglomerates, noting that no firm action was taken after the brutal 2017 crackdown in Rakhine sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh.
“With violence escalating against the people of Myanmar our question is, how many more dead bodies will there be on the streets of Myanmar before we see a strong response from the international community?” Tun Khin, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), said in a statement, warning of the military’s sense of impunity.
“We Rohingya have faced mass killings in 2017 and the international community failed to respond. We are seeing that same failure now in response to the massacre of Burmese protesters.”
Last week, the acting leader of Myanmar’s parallel civilian government, appointed by the legislators who were removed in the coup, vowed to pursue a “revolution” to remove the generals and restore democracy.
Mahn Win Khaing Than, who is in hiding along with most senior officials from the NLD, said the civilian government would seek to give people the legal right to defend themselves.
“This is the darkest moment of the nation and the moment that the dawn is close,” he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces at least four charges, including the illegal use of walkie-talkie radios and infringing protocols related to the coronavirus pandemic. A court appearance on Monday was delayed because of internet issues, according to her lawyer.
Myanmar has been subject to an internet blackout every night for the past 31 nights. In recent days the military has also begun restricting mobile internet services during the day, according to NetBlocks, which monitors internet disruptions around the world.