Myanmar coup: activists vow to defy junta with 'silent' strike one year on

Protesters warned they face up to 20 years in jail if they take part in nationwide show of dissent

Women in Yangon take part in a protest against Myanmar's junta, one year after the military coup took place. Reuters
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Myanmar's military rulers have threatened to jail anti-coup protesters who take part in a “silent strike” on Tuesday, a year since the generals seized power.

The South-East Asian country has been in chaos since Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other figures from her National League for Democracy party were rounded up in raids, accused by the junta of rigging a 2020 election the NLD won.

The overthrow of Ms Suu Kyi's government triggered huge street protests last year and security forces killed hundreds in a series of clampdowns that ensued, leading to the formation of the “people's defence forces" to take on the well-equipped army.

Activists called on people to stay indoors while businesses were advised to close on Tuesday, according to a Reuters report.

Silent strikes - in pictures

“We might be arrested and spend our life in jail if we are lucky. We might be tortured and killed if we are unlucky,” said youth activist Nan Lin, who hoped the strike would send a message to the junta.

A spokesman for the ruling military did not respond to telephone calls by Reuters seeking comment.

State media reported military ruler Gen Min Aung Hlaing had extended a state of emergency for six months on Monday to enable elections that have been promised to take place.

“It was necessary to set the right track for the genuine, disciplined multi-party democracy,” the junta leader 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 state-run newspaper said the military government would strive to hold new elections once the situation was “peaceful and stable”, without giving a date.

In the northern city of Myitkyina, a photograph of a sign put up by the military warned residents that they faced jail terms of up to 20 years if they took part in the silent protest, although images of the city posted on social media on Tuesday showed largely deserted streets.

In the main city of Yangon, photographs on a social media page put up by strike organisers showed a small protest where people threw red paint on the ground.

The impact of the calls for a nationwide strike was not immediately clear. At least four people were arrested in the central town of Pathein for inciting silent protests on social media, the Ayarwaddy Times reported.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in comments before the coup anniversary, urged the junta to allow greater humanitarian access.

The junta has accused the UN of bias and interference and is refusing to bow to international pressure, despite a corporate retreat from Myanmar and sanctions, the latest on Monday, when the US, Britain and Canada blacklisted more people linked to the junta.

For ordinary people in the country, life since the coup has become a grind as the economy suffers. There have been regular power cuts and internet curbs and, for some, a constant fear of being detained.

Security forces clamping down on dissent have killed at least 1,500 people and arrested 11,838 since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group cited by the UN. The junta disputes the death toll.

Ms Suu Kyi, 76, is on trial in more than a dozen cases that carry a combined maximum sentence of more than 150 years in prison, charges that critics say are designed to ensure she can never return to politics.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Australia, Britain, South Korea, the US and Canada, and the EU representative urged the international community to cease the flow of “arms, materiel, dual-use equipment, and technical assistance” to the Myanmar military.

An internationally-backed diplomatic effort led by the Association of South-East Asian Nations has faltered, with the junta's failure to honour its commitment to end hostilities and support dialogue frustrating members, including Singapore.

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

Updated: February 01, 2022, 8:26 AM
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