Dozens arrested during strike as Myanmar military expands retribution campaign

Some detained in the restive Sagaing region were said to have been ‘severely tortured’ by their captors.
2022.02.23
Dozens arrested during strike as Myanmar military expands retribution campaign Residents hold up a protest banner during the Six Two strike in Tanintharyi’s Launglone township, Feb. 22, 2022.
Dawei District Strike Committee

Authorities in Myanmar’s Sagaing and Tanintharyi regions have arrested dozens of people for allegedly joining a nationwide strike to protest the junta, in what observers say is part of a widening campaign of retribution against opponents of military rule.

Protesters gathered in cities across Myanmar on Tuesday as part of the “Six Twos Revolution” strike in a show of resistance despite the junta’s brutal crackdown on critics. Civilians joined monks in the streets displaying banners with the numbers to signify the continuation of mass strikes and demonstrations a year after a protest on Feb. 22, 2021, in which millions of people participated, three weeks after the military overthrew the country’s elected government.

During the strike, authorities in Sagaing and Tanintharyi arrested more than 60 people they say took part in the action, residents of the two regions told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

A spokesman for the Dawei District Strike Committee said police from Tanintharyi’s Launglone township donned riot gear to raid a shop in Thabyah village, arresting 34 youths celebrating a birthday before releasing 29 of them later Tuesday evening.

“Yesterday, at about 1:30 p.m., a friend from our group went to a birthday party at a restaurant in Thabyah village. Police raided the party and arrested him and others. All of them were around 18 years old,” the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They were not protesters or gathering for a protest. This shows how much the junta is worried about the people’s resistance.”

The spokesman said the five youths who remain in custody had been wearing black makeup on their faces and black T-shirts, similar to what participants in the Six Twos strike had worn Tuesday.

The 29 released were summoned to the Launglone police station on Wednesday morning and told to sign a pledge that they would refrain from “engaging in politics,” he said.

‘Torture’ in detention

In Sagaing’s Monywa township, where the military has faced strong resistance from anti-junta armed groups, authorities arrested 27 people on Tuesday for allegedly aiding members of the local prodemocracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia.

A resident of Monywa, who declined to be named for security reasons, told RFA that at least some of the 27 were “severely tortured” while in detention.

“According to one person who was released, most of the men were beaten, although the women were spared,” the resident said. “Some of the tortured could even face death.”

Photographs posted on social media, purportedly of the arrests in Monywa, showed a young man with a leg injury and severe facial injuries, although RFA could not independently verify their authenticity.

People Media — a news outlet said to have ties to military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) — reported on Tuesday that “eight PDF members, 10 who provided financial support to the PDF, and nine PDF informants” from Monywa had been arrested. 

Attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun about the arrests went unanswered Wednesday.

Zeyar Lwin, a member of the University Students' Union Alumni Force, told RFA that the impact of protests such as the Six Twos strike is significant and urged members of the public to remain vigilant while they are underway.

“The military arrests anyone they want whether they take part in protests or not,” he said. “Even people who remain in their own homes are targeted for arrest. These kinds of things will continue to happen for as long as we remain under a military dictatorship.”

Former railway department employees being evicted from state housing in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina, in an undated photo. Citizen journalist
Former railway department employees being evicted from state housing in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina, in an undated photo. Citizen journalist
Railway employee evictions

News of the arrests on Tuesday came as dozens of former railway department employees face eviction from state housing in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina for taking part in the nationwide anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). They told RFA they are struggling to make ends meet after more than year of no pay.

The 80 former employees joined the CDM on Feb. 8, 2021, and were quickly removed from their positions, but had been allowed to remain with their families in state housing for nearly a year before being ordered to vacate the premises in mid-January this year.

A member of the group told RFA on Wednesday that many of the families left the state housing within a week, but others have been unable to secure a place to stay because they no longer earn regular wages.

“All staff who took part in the CDM find life difficult except for a few … and most are now poor,” the former employee said.

“When there is no regular income, we must take any job we can to feed our families. … At least we didn’t have to worry about accommodation while we tried to earn some money. But now that we have been evicted, we must worry about our housing as well.”

The former employee said that some of the evicted families are now renting houses in the city, while others had to return to their hometowns because they could not afford the cost of living. Among the evicted employees were senior staffers with health problems and at least two mothers with young children, he said.

Financial pressure

Another former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the workers had received some financial support from the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) when the CDM was first launched, but dare not take any more because of the growing number of arrests.

Some 20 of the 80 former employees are now preparing to withdraw from the CDM because of the financial pressure, the source said.

“It is difficult to move out all of a sudden because they have no money and no place to live,” they said.

“It was very disturbing to see these [eviction] notices and we were constantly on edge. Sometimes we dared not sleep at home and stayed outside when we heard there might be arrests. We’d come back only when things calmed down.”

Sources close to the NUG said that the relevant shadow ministry is compiling a list of the evicted former railways department staffers and is undertaking measures to assist them with donations.

They counted more than 13,000 CDM staff members in Kachin state, based on figures dating from October 2021, and said former health workers and railways employees make up the majority.

The junta has cracked down on its opponents through attacks on peaceful protesters, arrests, and beatings and killings. The military regime has also attacked opposition strongholds with helicopter gunships, fighter jets, and troops that burn villages they accuse of supporting anti-junta militias.

As of Wednesday, more than 1,570 people had been killed since the coup and almost 12,300 arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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