SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 17 May 2021, Monday | النسخة العربية

Four killed in Myanmar protests as junta cracks down on online critics

On Saturday, Myanmar security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protesters, killing four people, according to a protester and the media, as the military stepped up its efforts to quell dissent by issuing arrest warrants for online critics and blocking access to the internet.

Despite the fact that security forces have killed over 550 people since the February 1 coup, demonstrators continue to gather every day, mostly in smaller groups in smaller cities, to voice their opposition to the reintroduction of military rule.

The Myanmar Now news service reported that security forces in the central town of Monywa opened fire on a crowd, killing three people.

“They started firing non-stop with both stun grenade and live rounds,” the protester in Monywa, who asked not to be named, told Reuters via a messaging app. “People backed off and quickly put up … barriers, but a bullet hit a person in front of me in the head. He died on the spot.”

One man was shot and killed in the southern town of Thaton, the Bago Weekly Journal online news portal reported. The media outlet earlier reported one person was killed in Bago town but later said the person was wounded by had not died.

Police and a spokesman for the junta did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group, in a statement earlier in the day, said the security forces had killed 550 people, 46 of them children, since the military overthrew an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The large-scale protests that attracted tens of thousands of people in the early days of defiance in major cities have mostly died out, with opponents of the coup resorting to “guerrilla rallies,” which are small, fast displays of defiance before security forces can react.

At night, people gather for candle-lit vigils.

“People are still protesting every day because we believe strongly that this is a fight between good and evil,” protest leader Tayzar San said in an audio message to Reuters.

Authorities are now waging an access control program. They had switched off mobile data and instructed internet providers to turn off wireless broadband on Friday, essentially cutting off most customers’ access to the internet, though some messages and images were still being sent and posted on social media.

Authorities issued warrants for 18 celebrities, including social media influencers and two journalists, under a law against material intended to cause a member of the armed forces to mutiny or disregard their duty, state media reported late on Friday.

All of them are known to oppose military rule. The charge can carry a prison term of three years.

Actress Paing Phyoe Thu said she would not be cowed.

“Whether a warrant has been issued or not, as long as I’m alive I’ll oppose the military dictatorship who are bullying and killing people. The revolution must prevail,” she said on Facebook.

Paing Phyoe Thu regularly attended rallies in the main city of Yangon in the weeks after the coup. Her whereabouts were not immediately known.

SILENCING THE VOICES?

State broadcaster MRTV announced the warrants for the 18 with screenshots and links to their Facebook profiles.

While the military has banned platforms like Facebook, it has continued to use social media to track critics and promote its message.

MRTV maintains a YouTube channel and shares links to its broadcasts on Twitter, both of which are officially banned.

The United States condemned the internet shutdown.

“We hope this won’t silence the voices of the people,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told a briefing.

The United States and other Western countries have denounced the coup and called for the release of Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign against military rule. She has been charged with violating an official secrets act that is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The coup has rekindled old wars with autonomy-seeking ethnic minority forces in the north and the east.

After announcing its support for the pro-democracy movement, Myanmar’s oldest rebel party, the Karen National Union (KNU), has seen the first military air strikes on its forces in more than 20 years.

According to the KNU, the air strikes forced over 12,000 villagers to flee their homes. It demanded an international ban on military weapons sales.

According to media reports, about 20 people have been killed in recent air strikes in KNU territory, including nearly a dozen at a gold mine operated by the party.

In the north, fighting has erupted between the army and ethnic Kachin rebels. Thousands of refugees have fled to Thailand and India as a result of the unrest.