Protests against Myanmar junta persist, 6 months on

Human rights group accuses armed forces of crimes against humanity

MANDALAY • Small groups of students protested against Myanmar's military junta yesterday in Mandalay and a human rights group accused the armed forces of crimes against humanity ahead of the six-month anniversary of the army's takeover.

Bands of university students rode motorbikes around Mandalay waving red and green flags, saying they rejected any possibility of talks with the military to negotiate a return to civilian rule.

"There's no negotiating in a blood feud," read one sign.

Myanmar's army seized power on Feb 1 from the civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi after her ruling party won elections that the military argued were tainted by fraud.

New York-based Human Rights Watch yesterday said the armed forces' violent suppression of protests against the coup and arrests of opponents included torture, murder and other acts that violate international humanitarian conventions.

"These attacks on the population amount to crimes against humanity for which those responsible should be brought to account," the group's Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.

The spokesman for the military authorities Zaw Min Tun could not be reached yesterday to respond to Human Rights Watch's allegations because his mobile phone was turned off.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says at least 6,990 people have been arrested since the coup. The group says the armed forces have killed 939 people, a number the military says is exaggerated. The army has branded its opponents terrorists and says its takeover was in line with the Constitution.

The military took power in February after alleging fraud in the November 2020 election, which Ms Suu Kyi's party swept. The former electoral commission had dismissed the military's accusations.

Thousands of civil servants joined a mass walkout in the days after the ouster of Ms Suu Kyi's government in an effort to deny the junta legitimacy, manpower and resources.

It is difficult to know how many are still participating in the campaign, with many sacked for joining protests and a severe coronavirus outbreak likely keeping others away from their desks.​

  • 6,990

    Estimated number of people who have been arrested since the Feb 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

The strikes have left the junta deprived of staff to manage utilities, issue bills and collect taxes.

It has appealed for medical workers, engineers and information technology specialists to come forward to help its coronavirus response - and dangled the promise of vaccines for those who do.

A state-backed power company in the commercial capital Yangon warned customers last month that a running boycott on bill payments was bleeding it of cash and affecting electricity supply.

Ms Shwe Ya Min worked for Myanmar's central bank for 17 years, but she and her husband both went on strike soon after the coup, joining colleagues in a walkout that paralysed the banking system. The couple were fired in May for not coming back to work, a dismissal Ms Shwe Ya Min said was a "relief" - even though it came with a demand that they return their back pay.

"We have been eating with what we saved, which will last only until next month," said Ms Shwe Ya Min. Some of her colleagues "are selling eggs and betel nut to pay the rent", she added. But she has no regrets about the decision.

"I will choose to die from starvation instead of going back to work," she said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 01, 2021, with the headline 'Protests against Myanmar junta persist, 6 months on'. Subscribe