UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged Myanmar’s military to release Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint now, a UN spokesperson said, a day after thousands of other detainees were freed five months since the coup.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army took power on February 1 and overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.
“We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all of those who are arbitrarily detained, and that includes President Win Myint and State councilor Aung San Suu Kyi,” Eri Kaneko, associate spokesperson for Guterres, said on Thursday.
Myanmar freed more than 2,000 detainees on Wednesday, among them journalists and others who the military said had been held on incitement charges for taking part in protests, local media reported.
Many of the military’s opponents have been held, and some convicted, under a law that criminalises comments that could cause fear or spread false news. Aung San Suu Kyi is on trial for a similar offence, among others, and remains in detention.
“We remain deeply concerned at the continuation of violence and intimidation, including arbitrary arrests, by the security forces,” said Kaneko.
Burning of army uniform
To mark the fifth month since the coup, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the country’s biggest city, Yangon, on Thursday setting fire to an army uniform and chanting calls for democracy.
The protest was one of the biggest in Yangon in recent weeks, although demonstrations against the army take place daily in many parts of the Southeast Asian country.
“What do we want? Democracy! Democracy!” protesters chanted as they ran through the streets with colourful smoke flares.
“For the people! For the people,” they shouted, according to video published by Reuters.
— Ro Nay San Lwin (@nslwin) July 1, 2021
They set an army uniform ablaze before dispersing.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach a military spokesman for comment.
Myanmar’s army has struggled to impose its authority since the coup. It has faced protests, strikes that have paralysed public and private sectors, and a resurgence of conflicts in the borderlands.
The military authorities have branded their opponents as terrorists. On Wednesday, it freed more than 2,000 prisoners, most them detained since the coup.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group said more than 6,400 people have been arrested since the coup. It put the death toll at more than 880, a number the military said is exaggerated.
The army has said its takeover was in line with the constitution. It took power alleging fraud in a November election swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. The former electoral commission had dismissed its accusations.
Meanwhile, detained US journalist Daniel Fenster appeared to have lost weight but said he was fine on Thursday as his case on incitement charges was adjourned in a Myanmar court to July 15, his lawyer said.
Fenster, 37, was detained at the main international airport in May as he was preparing to leave the country.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the continued detention of Fenster was “outrageous and unacceptable” and he should be released.
“Independent reporting of what’s happening on the ground in Myanmar should not be considered a crime,” he said in a statement.