Thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon on Saturday in the first major demonstration since Myanmar’s military seized power, despite a nationwide internet blackout imposed to stifle dissent.
Protesters chanted “down with the military dictatorship” and carried images of the ousted leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint, whose party won a landslide election in November. The military detained both in raids early on Monday morning and they have not been seen in public since.
“Tell the world what has happened here,” one of the protesters said. “The world needs to know.”
The military shut down the internet across the country in an attempt to stop the protests. The NetBlocks Internet Observatory reported that connectivity had fallen to 16% of ordinary levels by early afternoon. The military had already blocked Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Amnesty International described the blackout as “heinous and reckless”.
Despite the restrictions, several thousand demonstrators gathered near Yangon University. Many wore red headbands, the colour of the National League for Democracy, and raised their hands in a three-finger salute, a gesture also used by Thai pro-democracy protesters which symbolises resistance.
Lines of riot police blocked nearby roads, and two water cannon trucks were parked nearby. Some protesters later dispersed, but others remained at the scene. According to Agence France-Presse, as of early evening, no clashes had occurred.
At least two other groups of demonstrators marched through other parts of Myanmar’s main city, and AFP reported that as many as 2,000 people were marching further north in Mandalay.
Saturday’s protests were the biggest since the military seized power last week, prompting fury in the country and a flood of international condemnation. Myanmar spent about five decades under repressive military regimes before making the transition to a more democratic system in 2011.
“I always disliked the military but now I’m absolutely disgusted by them,” Maea, 30, said.
“This is unacceptable and immoral and we need to let them know. We need more people to join us,” said, Sai 28.
Passersby cheered the protesters, with drivers flashing a three-finger salute in solidarity and blasting out a song that became an anthem during the country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, which was brutally put down by the military.
A civil disobedience campaign has grown in recent days, with many doctors and teachers refusing to work. Every evening at about 8pm the sound of clanging metal rings out across Yangon as residents bang pots and pans in solidarity.
The army has justified its takeover by accusing the NLD of widespread fraud in November’s election, but has not provided credible evidence. The NLD won 396 of 476 seats, an even stronger performance than in the historic 2015 election, when the country held its first free vote in decades.
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development party suffered a humiliating defeat, taking just 33 seats.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who previously spent 15 years in detention campaigning against military rule and remains hugely popular in the country, has been charged with illegally importing six walkie-talkies. President Win Myint is accused of flouting Covid-19 restrictions. Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a message to Reuters on Saturday morning that he was also being detained.
The UN security council released a statement last week that expressed deep concern at the arbitrary detention of lawmakers, and the US has threatened sanctions.
Myanmar civil society organisations urged internet providers and mobile networks not to comply with the junta’s orders, accusing them of “legitimising the military’s authority”.
The Norwegian mobile network provider Telenor ASA said it had stressed to the authorities that access to telecom services should be maintained, but that it was bound by local law and its first priority was the safety of its local workers.
The UN human rights office said on Saturday that “internet and communication services must be fully restored to ensure freedom of expression and access to information”.
Courtesy – theguardian.com