Key Suu Kyi aide arrested as outrage grows over Myanmar coup

Mr Win Htein said that he was being taken by police officers in a car from Yangon to the capital, Naypyitaw.
Mr Win Htein said that he was being taken by police officers in a car from Yangon to the capital, Naypyitaw.PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP, REUTERS) - A key aide to Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on Friday (Feb 5), days after a coup that has sparked outrage and calls by US President Joe Biden for the generals to relinquish power.

The arrest came after the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city were filled for a third night with the sound of people banging pots and honking car horns, voicing their opposition to the coup.

The military seized power on Monday (Feb 1), detaining Suu Kyi and president Win Myint as they ended the country’s 10-year dalliance with democracy that had followed decades of oppressive junta rule. 

Win Htein, considered Suu Kyi’s right-hand man, “was arrested from his daughter’s house where he was staying at midnight (in Yangon),” said Kyi Toe, a press officer for the National League of Democracy.

The 79-year-old NLD stalwart is a longtime political prisoner, who has spent long stretches of time in and out for detention for campaigning against military rule. 

“We have been treated badly continuously for a long time,” he told Reuters by telephone as he was being taken away by police. “I have never been scared of them because I have done nothing wrong my entire life.” Reuters was unable to reach police for comment on his arrest or what charges could be brought against him.

In Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay, 30 people were arrested over pot-banging protests which have taken place for the last three nights, media reported.

Eleven Media quoted Maung Maung Aye, deputy head of the regional police force as saying they were accused of breaking a law against “causing noise in public streets”.  A teenager was among others arrested elsewhere over the noisy protests.

There has been no outpouring of people onto the streets in a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on protests, but there were signs of coup opponents growing bolder – with dozens of youths parading in the southeastern city of Dawei.

Ms Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since Monday.  According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Yangon-based group that monitors political arrests in Myanmar, more than 130 officials and lawmakers have been detained in relation to the coup.

Telecom providers in the country have also been ordered to throttle Facebook, the main means of accessing the internet and communication for millions of people in Myanmar.

With Facebook stifled, more Myanmar people have moved to Twitter in recent days or started using VPN services to bypass the blockade.

Hashtags opposing the coup, including #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar and #RespectOurVotes, were trending on Twitter in 
Myanmar on Friday, with more than seven million posts citing them. 

A so-called Civil Disobedience Movement has gathered steam online, calling on the public to voice opposition every night by banging pots and clanging cymbals to show their anger.

At 8 pm on Thursday (Feb 4), a cacophony of noise rose from the neighbourhoods of Yangon, with cars honking on the streets to join the chorus of dissent.

“I haven’t been able to sleep or eat since the coup,” Yangon resident Win Bo told Agence France-Presse, adding that he was “a frontliner” during the 1988 uprising. 

That pro-democracy movement ended in a bloody crackdown, killing thousands of protesters and monks who were campaigning against the junta.

“Now I am facing it again,” he said. “I can’t accept this coup. I want to do an armed revolution if possible.” 

About 70 NLD MPs on Thursday convened a symbolic parliament at their compound in Naypyidaw, signing a pledge that they would serve the duty of the people.

There have been calls on multinational companies working with Myanmar’s military-linked businesses to cut ties as a way to pressure the generals. 

 Japanese beer giant Kirin said on Friday it was terminating its joint venture with a military-owned conglomerate. Kirin has been under scrutiny for some time over its ties to Myanmar’s army-owned breweries.

The 15-member United Nations Security Council released a statement on Thursday stressing the “need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”

Language in the statement nonetheless made no mention of a coup – apparently to win support from China and Russia, which have traditionally sided with Myanmar. Both countries have ties to the military and China has large economic interests in its neighbour.

China’s UN mission said Beijing hoped the key messages in the statement “could be heeded by all sides and lead to a positive outcome”.