© Reuters. PHOTO PHOTO: Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup, presides over an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS / Stringer
(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military authorities have threatened to arrest anti-coup protesters participating in a “silent strike” on Tuesday, a year since the generals seized power as the United States, Britain and Canada imposed new sanctions.
The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos since Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were rounded up in raids, accused by the junta of cheating on a 2020 election that the NLD won.
The overthrow of Suu Kyi’s government sparked huge street protests last year, and security forces killed hundreds of oppressors that followed, leading to the formation of “people’s defense forces” to receive the well-equipped army.
In recent days, activists have urged people to stay indoors and businesses to close on Tuesday.
“We can be arrested and spend our lives in prison if we are lucky. We can 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 phone calls for comment.
State media reported that military ruler Min Aung Hlaing on Monday had extended the state of emergency for six months to facilitate the promised election.
“It was necessary to set the right track for true, disciplined multi-party democracy,” Min Aung Hlaing said in a report in the Global New Light of Myanmar, referring to the threat posed by “internal and external saboteurs” and “terrorist attacks and destruction.”
The state-run newspaper said the military government would strive to hold new elections when the situation was “peaceful and stable”, without specifying a date.
In the northern city of Myitkyina, a photograph of a sign erected by the military warned residents against participating in the silent protest or risking prison sentences of up to 20 years, even though photos of the city posted on social media on Tuesday showed largely deserted streets .
In Yangon’s capital, photographs on a social media page made by strike organizers showed a small protest in which people threw red paint on the ground.
The impact of the calls for a nationwide strike was not immediately clear. At least four people have been arrested in the central city of Pathein for encouraging silent protests on social media, the Ayarwaddy Times reported.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his comments ahead of the coup anniversary, urged the junta to allow greater humanitarian access.
The junta has accused the UN of bias and interference and refuses to bow to international pressure despite a company’s withdrawal from Myanmar and sanctions, most recently on Monday, when the US, UK and Canada blacklisted several people associated with the junta.
For ordinary people in Myanmar, life since the coup has become a trick with the economy waning, regular power outages and internet access and for some a constant fear of being detained.
Security forces cracking down on dissent have killed at least 1,500 people and arrested 11,838 since the coup, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a UN-cited activist group. The junta disputes the death toll.
Suu Kyi, 76, has been indicted in more than a dozen cases, with a total maximum sentence of more than 150 years in prison, accusations that critics say are designed to ensure she can never return to politics.
In a joint statement, foreign ministers from countries including Australia, Britain, South Korea, the United States, Canada and the EU called on the international community to halt the flow of “weapons, equipment, dual-use equipment and technical assistance” to Myanmar’s military.
An internationally backed diplomatic effort led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has faltered, and the junta’s failure to honor its commitment to end hostilities and support dialogue is frustrating members, including Singapore.
“Conditions in Myanmar for the people continue to deteriorate,” its Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the occasion of the anniversary, which demanded the release of Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.