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Myanmar activists plan to protest the junta with a strike on the anniversary of the coup

FILE PHOTO: A Myanmar soldier looks on as he stands inside city hall after soldiers occupied the building, in Yangon, Myanmar February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Myanmar’s military rulers have threatened to imprison anti-coup demonstrators if they participate in a “silent strike” on Tuesday, one year after the generals seized control, as the U.S., UK, and Canada imposed further sanctions.

The news: Since Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were arrested in raids, the junta has accused them of manipulating a 2020 election that the NLD won.

  • Last year, the fall of Suu Kyi’s government sparked massive street protests, with security forces killing hundreds in the ensuing crackdowns, prompting the establishment of “people’s defence forces” to take on the well-equipped army.
  • Activists have been urging people to stay inside and businesses to close on Tuesday in recent days.
  • “We might be arrested and spend our life in jail if we’re lucky. We might be tortured and killed if we’re unlucky,” said youth activist Nan Lin, who hoped the strike would send a message to the junta.
  • The ruling military’s spokesman did not return phone calls seeking comment.

What they’re saying: According to official media, military ruler Min Aung Hlaing prolonged the state of emergency for six months on Monday in order to facilitate promised elections.

  • “It was necessary to set the right track for the genuine, disciplined multi-party democracy,” Min Aung Hlaing said in a report in the Global New Light of Myanmar, where he talked about the threat from “internal and external saboteurs” and “terrorist attacks and destruction”.
  • The military government would attempt to hold new elections once the situation was “calm and stable,” according to the state-run daily, without specifying a timeframe.
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup, presides at an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

What’s going on: A photograph of a banner put up by the military in the northern city of Myitkyina advised locals not to join the silent protest or risk jail terms of up to 20 years, despite images of the city posted on social media on Tuesday showing mostly deserted streets.

  • Photographs from a social media page set up by strike organisers showed a minor protest in Yangon’s major city, where individuals threw red paint on the ground.
  • The significance of the nationwide strike calls was unclear at the time. According to the Ayarwaddy Times, at least four persons were arrested in the central town of Pathein for instigating silent protests on social media.
  • In remarks made before of the coup anniversary, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres encouraged the junta to provide more humanitarian access.
  • Despite a business withdrawal from Myanmar and penalties, including the most recent on Monday, when the U.S., UK, and Canada blacklisted additional individuals related to the military, the junta has accused the UN of prejudice and involvement and has refused to yield to international pressure.
  • Life has become a slog for ordinary Myanmar citizens since the coup, with the economy deteriorating, frequent power outages and internet restrictions, and, for some, the constant worry of being jailed.
  • According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, an activist group cited by the United Nations, security forces have killed at least 1,500 people and imprisoned 11,838 since the coup. The death toll is disputed by the junta.
  • Suu Kyi, 76, is facing charges in more than a dozen cases with a total maximum penalty of more than 150 years in prison, charges that detractors believe are intended to keep her out of politics forever.
  • Foreign ministers from Australia, the United Kingdom, South Korea, the United States, Canada, and the European Union issued a joint statement urging the international community to halt the flow of “arms, material, dual-use equipment, and technical assistance” to Myanmar’s military.

The junta’s failure to honour its vow to cease violence and foster dialogue has irritated members, particularly Singapore, of an internationally backed diplomatic effort led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Conditions in Myanmar for the people continue to deteriorate,” its foreign ministry said in a statement marking the anniversary, which demanded Suu Kyi and all political prisoners be freed.

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