Ten months have now passed since the attempted coup in Myanmar. In the time that has elapsed, horrifying rights abuses have been perpetrated against local people who have exemplified a spirited resistance to the junta. The regime is armed with weapons and uses force as a fear mongering tactic. Civilians have what the military lacks – which is a moral compass that propels them forward amidst the difficult new realities on the ground.
The National Unity Government (NUG), a government of and for the people, has been offering the international community multiple pathways for dialogue and interaction, as to not legitimize or recognize the illegal junta. At the United Nations, civil society organizations, alongside the NUG, have been vocal in their demands that a junta representative must not be granted a seat. Over the last week, the nine member Credentials Committee of the General Assembly, which is the body responsible for approving UN representatives, decided to refer a decision on who will be selected to speak for Myanmar, as well as Afghanistan. This in effect means that U Kyaw Moe Tun, who was appointed by the National League for Democracy (NLD), will continue to be the permanent representative for the time being. This step was welcomed by the NUG, though the military junta not surprisingly criticized the UN for denying its envoy.
Pressure on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to not recognize the junta remains. Cambodia will become the chairman of ASEAN beginning in 2022. Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, invited the junta appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin to a meeting in the next week. The decision has spurred suspicions that Cambodia will not take a hardline against Myanmar’s assaults and violent suppression of human rights in the country. A new report released by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) found that of the ‘dramatic rise’ in attacks against opposition Members of Parliament, those in Myanmar were the worst and were an ‘example of a wider trend of closing democratic space in the region.’ The NLD’s Central Working Committee reported that over 570 NLD party members have been detained since February. Only 128 of those detained have been released, and 432 remain in custody.
The urgency for the international community to intervene with concrete action such as targeted sanctions and a global arms embargo is growing every day.
According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, over 200 more homes were destroyed over the course of five days between 25 and 29 November. More than 473 structures have been intentionally destroyed by the military junta in Thantlang. Satellite tools and mapping resources by Human Rights Watch detected several thermal anomalies over Thantlang, Chin State, on at least 10 different dates in the past month, during the day and at night. Evidence suggests these fires were deliberately set by the military junta. Photos circulated online showed the mountainous town disappearing as homes, villages and land are being intentionally burnt to the ground.
Religious freedoms, freedom of mobility and the right to safety, shelter and protection are all being undermined as the junta commits war crimes with impunity.
In Kachin State, the presence of the military junta is continuing to undermine civilian safety. An IDP camp and church in Momauk, Kachin State, was damaged after it was shelled by the military junta. More human rights violations followed, with thirty civilians being abducted to be used as human shields while soldiers patrolled the town. Locals were taken from the market, schools and hospitals to guide the junta. Women and children were among those in the regime’s custody. All detainees were released later in the evening.
Bomb blasts in recent days in Kachin State have led to injuries. At a high school in Hpakant, six people were hurt when a school bus struck a landmine. Very few students have dared return to school as instability wreaks havoc in the region and sparks fears. Soldiers have also taken to patrolling classrooms.
On 30 November, the Kachin Independence Army ambushed a junta convoy with a landmine in Mohnyin Township, Kachin State. In retaliation for the at least seven soldiers killed in the attack, the junta launched an artillery attack and shelled a local village. Three homes were damaged and livestock was killed by the shells.
Over 30,000 residents from 15 villages in Sagaing region were forced to flee airstrikes fired by the military junta. Five helicopters by the regime were used to send additional soldiers to fight the local People’s Defence Forces (PDF). The attack was in retaliation for heavy casualties faced by the junta. Witnesses recalled the helicopters firing ‘at anyone they could see.’
Soldiers also set fire to 20 homes and two barns in Kalay Township. The junta targeted homes that they believed had occupants with ties to the PDF.
An additional five displaced civilians were killed by the junta as soldiers raided villages and refugee camps in Gangaw township, where hundreds of troops have been deployed. A series of serious human rights violations are being deployed including torture, sexual harassment and arson. The increasing military presence has been devastating for innocent people caught in the crossfire. An arms embargo must be immediately enforced.
Rights groups condemned the rulings as a ‘travesty of justice’
A Naypyitaw court on Monday sentenced detained leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint to four years in prison on charges of incitement and breaking Covid-19 regulations, according to court sources.
They were the first verdicts handed down to the ousted State Counsellor and President after months of hearings.
Each leader received two years in prison for inciting public unrest under Section 505b of the Penal Code, a charge relating to two statements denouncing the junta released by the National League for Democracy (NLD) after the February 1 coup.
They received another two years under Section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law based on the charge they violated Covid-19 restrictions during last year’s election campaign.
Ousted Naypyitaw Mayor Myo Aung also received a two-year sentence for incitement for the two NLD statements at Monday’s hearing, where judge Maung Maung Lwin presided.
Closed-door hearings for Suu Kyi, 76, and Win Myint, 70, have been held at a specially designated court in Zabuthiri Township for the past several months.
The two have been kept at undisclosed locations.
It is unclear if Suu Kyi and the two other defendants will be moved to prison now that they have been sentenced.
The regime has barred all five of Suu Kyi’s lawyers from speaking publicly about her case, saying that it could create “a disturbance of the public tranquility.”
Monday’s rulings were “illegal” and were part of the junta’s attempt to cover up its own crimes, said Thein Oo, the justice minister of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG).
“All of the coup regime’s charges concerning political matters were void since the beginning and thus the rulings of the courts on those charges are absolutely illegal,” Thein Oo told Myanmar Now.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) pressure group called the ruling a “travesty of justice.”
“No one is fooled by today’s sentencing,” said Charles Santiago, the group’s chair.
“Since the day of the coup, it’s been clear that the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, and the dozens of other detained MPs, have been nothing more than an excuse by the junta to justify their illegal power grab,” he said in a statement.
The ruling also showed “continuing contempt” for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the five-point consensus the bloc reached with the junta earlier this year, he said.
“One of the agreed points is for constructive dialogue among all parties concerned, but instead, the junta is keeping one of the parties in jail,” said Santiago.
He called upon ASEAN to hold the line against the “illegal” military takeover and engage with the NUG.
“We continue our call for ASEAN to ban all junta representatives from its meetings [and] prevent junta generals from travelling in the region,” he said.
Suu Kyi faces a total sentence of several decades under ten other charges, including six for corruption. She has denied all of the charges.
The latest corruption charge relates to the rental of a helicopter by Dr Win Myat Aye, the former minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement.
The helicopter, which was rented for disaster management purposes, was allegedly improperly used with the approval of Suu Kyi and Win Myint, who has also been charged in connection with the case.
The junta announced earlier this month that it plans to prosecute 16 people for electoral fraud, including Suu Kyi, Win Myint, Myo Aung, and detained NLD vice chair Zaw Myint Maung.
The 21-year-old woman’s family denied the charges, saying she has no income and rarely leaves her home
A 21-year-old woman is in police custody in Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu Township after being arrested late last week on suspicion of financially supporting the anti-regime People’s Defence Force (PDF).
Aye Myint Myat Aung was detained last Friday at a residential compound for healthcare workers in Kyaukphyu’s Asoera ward where she was living with her family, according to a relative.
The ward administrator, accompanied by soldiers and police, was conducting a late-night “guest list check” at the compound when Aye Myint Myat Aung was arrested, her aunt told Myanmar Now.
“The police said that a bank account in her name and registered under her ID card number was being used to provide financial support to the PDF every month and that they would need to question her,” her aunt said.
Aye Myint Myat Aung denied having anything to do with the PDF and said she was being wrongly accused, the aunt said, adding that her niece has no money of her own and receives just 500-1,000 kyat a day as pocket money from her parents.
“She stays at home most of the time, under her family’s supervision, and has no knowledge of political matters,” the aunt added.
A number of arrests have been made in Rakhine in recent months over allegations of involvement with the PDF, despite the fact that there has been little evidence of an armed resistance movement emerging in the state since the military seized power in February.
In October, three men, including Arakan Front Party candidate Sein Chit and Mrauk-U-based writer Min Dipar, were arrested on suspicion of having ties to the PDF and charged under Myanmar’s Counterterrorism Law.
In early November, two women and a teenaged girl were arrested in Rakhine’s Thandwe Township and later charged under the same law for allegedly financing PDF operations.
In one case, soldiers repeatedly beat a farmer in front of villagers and splashed water on his face to wake him when he passed out
Two men were murdered by soldiers after being detained in Mandalay Region this week in seperate incidents, locals have told Myanmar Now.
Than Tun Aung, a 25-year-old farmer, was detained and severely beaten on Monday after soldiers stationed in his village of Khine, Myingyan Township, started firing their guns at random, several locals there said.
He was among 11 men at the village bar at the time who were accused of an “unauthorised gathering” and taken to the local school.
Than Tun Aung fainted from the beatings on his way to the school, but the soldiers splashed him with water to wake him up and kept beating him as they continued on their way, said a local who spoke to eyewitnesses.
“The kid died while they splashed water on him and kicked him repeatedly,” the local said. “They were beating him for ‘not answering’ their questions but the truth is he just couldn’t speak anymore because of his injuries.”
Five hours after his arrest, villagers found his body between the market and the local clinic covered with a blanket. Soldiers told villagers he died of a cold, said another local, who has now fled Khine.
Than Tun Aung’s funeral was held at the village cemetery on Tuesday, but soldiers disrupted the ceremony by blocking the way for people who were carrying his body to be cremated, said the second local.
“The main road to the cemetery is the road near the school where the soldiers are stationed,” he said. “The soldiers came out of the school and told us that they couldn’t let us pass, so we had to go through the woods to get to the cemetery.”
Than Tun Aung leaves behind a 22-year-old wife and a one-year-old son.
Around 30 soldiers have been stationed at the school for about a month and more than 1,500 residents have fled to nearby villages.
The 10 other people detained with Than Tun Aung have been released but are not allowed to leave the village, locals said. “Those who were arrested didn’t dare to flee because the military threatened to harm their families if they did,” said one resident.
Than Tun Aung’s family did not want to speak with the media because soldiers were still in the village, the locals added.
Soldiers have been checking villagers’ mobile phones and social media pages, they said.
There have also been incidents of soldiers detaining villagers and forcing them to sing the Myanmar national anthem while they beat them, the locals said, adding that in other cases soldiers have forced villagers to fight each other.
Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun could not be reached for comment.
In a similar case on Wednesday, Phyo Maung Ye, the 30-year-old owner of the Today teashop in Sintgaing Township’s Kathe village, was shot in the leg three times as he was detained by junta forces and died in custody at the Hpalanbo police station the same day.
Twelve police and soldiers detained Phyo Maung Ye along with his wife and two-year-old son, who were also taken to the police station but released hours later, according to locals.
Phyo Maung Ye was arrested on suspicion of helping to fund the People’s Defence Force (PDF), said one local.
“A Facebook account wrote that Phyo Maung Ye was financially supporting the PDF and he posted a status to refute that claim, but he was arrested at his shop the next day,” said the local. “He was shot three times in his leg during his arrest. We heard he had his arm broken during interrogation as well.”
The police station claimed that Phyo Maung Ye died when he tripped and fell during an escape attempt. They did not allow his family to take his body and said they had cremated it themselves.
“It’s impossible that he tripped and fell and died. He died because they tortured him. He had already been shot when he was arrested,” said another local.
“He was a good person doing honest work. He was not affiliated with the PDF either,” he added. “He did not give them any financial support. It saddens me a lot that our own villager had to experience this.”
The Sintgaing chapter of the PDF said Phyo Maung Ye’s killing was an act of terrorism by the military. “He was not a member and he was not a supporter. They took out their anger on an innocent civilian,” said a member of the group.
Myanmar Now tried to contact the military council and the Hpalanbo police station about Phyo Ye Maung’s death but all calls went unanswered.
In July junta forces arrested and tortured another teashop owner in Sintgaing. Min Thu Tun was detained along with his wife and child in Ohn Pin Chan and reportedly lost his hearing and some of his eyesight while being interrogated.
At least 1,302 civilians have been killed by the junta since it seized power in February and 7,687 remain in junta custody, according to recent figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Despite Sunday’s deadly attack, another anti-regime protest was held in Yangon’s Hlaing Township later in the day
Regime forces plowed into a crowd of protesters in Yangon’s Kyimyindaing Township early Sunday morning, killing at least five before arresting around 15 others.
Witnesses told Myanmar Now that the incident occurred minutes after a flash mob formed at around 9am to demand an end to military rule.
Video footage of the incident shows a vehicle speeding past cars as it approached the protesters, who can be seen scattering seconds before impact. Moments later, the sound of gunfire can be heard over the screams and shouts of the protesters.
“The car accelerated and rammed into the protesters. Four or five were thrown into the air,” said a member of the protest group that organized the demonstration.
One of the protesters who managed to escape told Myanmar Now by phone that he was hit with the butt of a rifle after he was knocked down by the vehicle.
“I think they hit me to knock me unconscious so that they could continue arresting other protesters,” he said.
“I think there were only around 10 of them,” he added, referring to the junta forces responsible for the attack.
According to a local resident who witnessed the incident, soldiers beat the protesters who had fallen to the ground and aimed their rifles at people watching from their apartments.
The witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the soldiers only allowed an ambulance into the area after they had finished washing blood off of the street.
Despite the deadly attack, another protest was held in Yangon’s Hlaing Township later in the day.
The junta’s use of lethal force against anti-regime protesters has done little to stop public displays of resistance to the February 1 coup in Yangon and other towns and cities around the country.
Zaw Min Tun, the regime’s spokesperson, was not available for comment on Sunday’s attack.
Since seizing power just over 10 months ago, the junta has murdered at least 1,300 civilians and arrested thousands more, some of whom have died in custody after being subjected to torture.
Meanwhile, clashes have intensified between the military and armed resistance groups in many parts of the country, including Chin and Kayah (Karenni) states and Sagaing and Magway regions.
Ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Kayin (Karen) states have also battled regime forces with increasing frequency since the coup, which has thrown much of the country into chaos.
In many remote areas, regime forces have suffered heavy casualties, prompting “clearance operations” that have forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
For families in Myanmar, fear and uncertainty occupy their darkest thoughts. The possibility of being separated or killed during a raid by the junta has contributed to the harrowing ordeals civilians have been forced to confront since February. As more and more activists and former politicians are abducted by the Myanmar military, relatives of activists are among those being detained in their place. The taking of hostages is considered a war-crime under the Geneva Convention, and yet the junta continues to show disdain and disregard for any international human rights laws and principles.
As a result of the frequency of the raids, parents and grandparents have been forced to make devastatingly difficult decisions. Fearing for their physical and mental system, relatives of activists are cutting ties with them, though human rights defenders are not harboring any resentment. The junta is arresting anyone who they deem is a threat through unproven suspicions and often a racial bias based on ethnicity and religion. They want to cut all ties with leaders who strongly oppose the coup.
Family members taken hostage are being killed while in custody of the junta. Last week, a man detained in place of his nephew who could not be found during a raid was killed within hours of being interrogated by military intelligence and showed evidence of severe injuries. His nephew was a prominent protest organizer wanted by the regime. More recently, a 19 year old named Phone Myint Aung who was arrested with his father, was killed while in custody of the junta. His funeral was attended with plain clothed police officers. The extent of the growing numbers of arbitrary arrests was commented on by the United Nations who called for the attacks to stop with at least 175 people having died while in custody since February.
Children are also being used as pawns by the military. The seven year old daughter of a journalist detained by the junta was asked if her mother had bought guns. This type of behavior is not uncommon. The Myanmar military regularly uses desperate means of coercion to try and extract the information they desire. Their actions reinforce the urgency surrounding this years 16 Days of Activism which is held annually to bring attention to violence against women and girls. The safety of young women is in jeopardy with the military authorities dominating the legal system and soldiers with a reputation of impunity. The campaign is an important reminder of the perils women are faced with on a daily basis and the important work being done by women’s rights organizations which must continue to be supported.
A catholic church which also housed a clinic in Loikaw was raided by junta soldiers on 22 November. Over 200 soldiers and policemen arrested 18 health workers (including four doctors, nurses, pharmacists and volunteers). They also forced over two dozen patients to leave the premises. Medical records were unjustly confiscated. Attacks on religious buildings where local populations have sought safety from violence are increasingly being targeted by the regime. Churches in predominantly Christian States such as Kayah and Chin States are being shelled by artillery and burned to the ground. At least 10 parishes in Loikaw Diocese have been impacted by the violence which has also forced over 100 000 to flee.
Internal displacement of innocent civilians continues to be fuelled by ongoing clashes between the military junta and local People’s Defence Forces (PDF).
In Magway region, over 2000 residents of Saw Township were forced to flee worsening offensives during retaliation strikes by the junta.. The junta used helicopters to fire at PDF positions which sent villagers from surrounding areas to also flee, including the elderly and children. Internally displaced persons who sought safety in the jungle said they have been moving constantly and have not been able to sleep well. Tatmadaw soldiers have stated anyone found hiding would be assumed an ‘enemy’ and killed.
Justice has yet to be met for Ko Nyi Khin, a volunteer supporting internally displaced people in Pekon township, southern Shan State. This area is under heavy militarization by the military junta as clashes escalated between civilian armed defence forces and the Tatmadaw. Ko Nyi Khin was arrested earlier this month and beaten by soldiers before being taken away. After three days of interrogation, his death was announced though his body has not been released by the authorities.
Violence in southern townships of Shan State has been forcing civilians to flee regularly. Military junta soldiers are repositioning themselves in local areas making fleeing a regular occurrence. They are fearful of being caught but risk survival in remote areas without food, shelter or water. The elderly and young children are especially hard hit by these challenges as livelihoods are crippled by farmers not safely able to access their fields to harvest.