Myanmar junta deploy night-time arrests and mobs to instil fear

Myanmar’s military junta has escalated night-time arrests of opponents, reviving a tactic from the country’s old military regime that human rights groups said was designed to instil fear following the coup on February 1. 

The news came amid reports that some of the ex-convicts released from jails in a mass amnesty on Friday had set fires and caused disturbances in parts of Yangon, the largest city. The deployment of what some termed “mobs” revived bad memories of the regime’s use of provocateurs to sow havoc during Myanmar’s former military dictatorship in 1962-2011.

“Whilst the peaceful intentions of the civil disobedience movement (are) well known, there are disturbing reports of instability caused by violent mobs,” said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a non-profit organisation of former political prisoners living in exile. “There is historical precedent for instability being fomented across Burma.”

The AAPP said that as of Saturday 384 people had been detained since the coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. Campaigners said the number of people arrested was probably higher but confirming the cases would take time.

Human rights groups and protest activists said that many of those arrested in recent days were lawyers, doctors, civil servants and other professionals who have led protests. Many were taken away by plainclothes police to undisclosed locations. 

However, in some parts of Yangon, neighbourhood watch groups alerted residents of police or other intruders by banging on pots and pans, a symbol of resistance that has proliferated. Some citizens’ groups carried out their own community “arrests”, according to the AAPP.

“This is a complete replica of what happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when they came in the night, but in this day and age people are more prepared,” said Manny Maung, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Older people have been through it many times before, and young people aren’t going to take it lying down.” 

The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a state mouthpiece, confirmed on Sunday that police had issued arrest warrants and were seeking “fugitives” accused of writing articles or social media posts with intent “to harm the peace and order of the country”. Senior general Min Aung Hlaing’s junta last week unveiled a draconian cyber security law that will give the regime sweeping powers to police online dissent.

The military commander-in-chief seized power two weeks ago and declared a year-long state of emergency after making unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the November election. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy comprehensively defeated the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the military’s political proxy, in the vote.

Since the first week of the coup, hundreds of thousands of people have gathered in daily protests in cities across the country, including in ethnic minority states. In some cases, civil servants, police, and other state officials have crossed lines to join protesters. 

The US last week imposed sanctions against Min Aung Hlaing and nine other coup leaders and three military-owned companies. The UN’s top human rights body on Friday adopted a resolution calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s “unconditional” release. China and Russia distanced themselves from the decision.

Follow John Reed on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites

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