Myanmar resumes anti-coup demonstrations Thursday

Burmese protesters take to the streets again as their motorcycle convoy takes to the streets of Mandalay to protest the military coup. (March 25, 2021)

A day earlier, “silent protests” were held in many Burmese cities, leaving the streets nearly empty. A day later, protesters took to the streets on Thursday (March 25) in a massive demonstration to continue their protest against the ruling military government.

There were scattered reports of soldiers using force to disperse protests in the southeastern Burmese city of Mawtan Meanchey and in Pa-an, the capital of southeastern Kayin State. Soldiers also confronted protesters holding candlelight vigils across the country, and there were reports that at least one man was shot dead.

Pro-democracy activists on Wednesday urged the crowd to stay Home and not patronize any businesses, a new tactic designed to avoid an increasingly deadly military response to the demonstrations. The demonstrations have been ongoing since Feb. 1, when de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of the civilian government were removed from power and detained by the military.

Local activist group Aid Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says at least 286 people have been killed by the military during the crackdown. One of those killed was a 7-year-old girl who was shot dead after soldiers broke into her home in Mandalay on Tuesday, according to media outlets Myanmar Now and Reuters. The child was reportedly sitting on her father’s lap when the soldiers broke in, and the soldiers then questioned the father if everyone in the Family was at home. The father said yes, but the soldiers accused him of lying and opened fire, hitting the girl.

The Political Prisoners Aid Association also said more than 2,900 people have been arrested and detained since the crackdown began. But more than 600 protesters were released from Insein prison in the main city of Yangon on Wednesday in an apparent gesture of goodwill from the military government. Associated Press reporter Thein Zaw, who was arrested along with eight other media workers while covering street protests in Yangon, was among those released.

In a statement Wednesday, Farhan Haq, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Guterres, urged the junta to exercise “maximum restraint” as Armed Forces Day approaches on March 27. He called for “someone to be held accountable for all the crimes and human rights violations that continue to be committed in Burma.

Reuters reported that the U.S. Treasury Department is planning to impose sanctions on two business groups controlled by the Burmese military. The Treasury Department’s order to freeze Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) could come as early as Thursday.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces four criminal charges, including possession of an unauthorized walkie-talkie, violation of the New crown outbreak restrictions, violation of the telecommunications law and inciting public disorder. She is also accused by the junta of accepting $600,000 in illegal payments.

Aung San Suu Kyi was scheduled to appear in court via video on Wednesday, but that appearance was postponed to April 1. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told the Voice of America that police blocked access to the courthouse and allowed only two junior lawyers to enter. Khin Maung Zaw said the judge told the two lawyers that the court hearing scheduled for Wednesday could not take place.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s court appearances have been repeatedly postponed. The trial, scheduled for Wednesday, was originally scheduled for March 15, but was delayed because the Internet was shut down. Authorities have been shutting down the Internet for weeks to prevent people from spreading news of protests across the country.

In explaining their reasons for the coup, the junta said the Nov. 8 election last year was fraudulent. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the election. Myanmar’s election commission has rejected claims of election fraud.