Two Journalists Arrested in Myanmar, Where Forces Kill 10 Anti-Coup Protesters

International governments condemn the military takeover and violent suppression of protests.
2021-03-19
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Two Journalists Arrested in Myanmar, Where Forces Kill 10 Anti-Coup Protesters A man stands on a poster featuring armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as he attempts to douse tear gas during a crackdown by security forces on a demonstration by protesters against the military coup in Yangon's Thaketa township on March 19, 2021.
Citizen Journalist

Police in Myanmar Friday arrested two journalists covering the trial of a civilian official ousted in last month’s military takeover as brutal crackdowns on anti-coup protests killed at least 10, sources in Myanmar told RFA.

Aung Thura of the BBC’s Burmese-language service and Than Htike Aung from a local news agency were at a courthouse in the capital Naypyidaw for the trial of Win Htein, a senior official of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party ousted in the military takeover on Feb. 1.

The two journalists were stopped by two men in plainclothes, believed to be security agents. According to the BBC, the men came to the court in an unmarked van, demanding to see the reporters.

The BBC lost contact with Aung Thura after the two reporters were taken away.

"We are extremely concerned about our BBC News Burmese Reporter, Aung Thura, who was taken away by unidentified men," the BBC said in a statement. It called on authorities to help locate him

Than Htike Aung’s outlet, Mizzima News, is one of five domestic news agencies or newspapers that had operating licenses revoked by the military junta earlier this month.

An RFA tally shows that since the coup, about 40 journalists have been arrested with about half still detained.

Despite an atmosphere of menace and increasing brutality by security forces, protesters returned to the streets Friday in multiple cities in the country of 54 million people, and demonstrations were violently suppressed, with 10 people killed, witnesses and citizens’ social media reports said.

Nine of the 10 fatalities Friday were in the southern Shan state town of Aungban, where witnesses say police opened fire on a group of protesters while trying to clear their makeshift barricade.

A man who was helping the wounded shortly after the shooting told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the police confiscated six bodies. At that time eight were known to have died.

“We believe they took the bodies to Aungban Police Station. Another died at Kalaw Hospital and another at his home after his friends and family carried him there,” said the man, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the incident.

The man said the shooting happened without warning.

“They got out of their vehicles straight away and fired their automatic weapons at the protesters. They didn’t even use teargas. They were not shooting single rounds. It was automatic fire like in a war, so people had to run for their lives,” he said.

The Myanmar Now news portal reported another protester was shot dead in the northeastern town of Loikaw.

In Yangon, the former capital and commercial center that has been a main stage for six weeks of protests, police and soldiers ordered local residents at gunpoint to clear makeshift barricades from the roads as they searched for protest leaders.

In citizen video, police with guns drawn forced a man to crawl on the ground after he asked them not to make him to carry sandbags.

In Yangon’s Dawbon township, four people were wounded when security forces fired into residential areas, while in Thingangyun township, security officials damaged 30 vehicles parked by the roadside.

Reuters reported that another shooting death in Yangon was shown on social media, but could not confirm the death.

Meanwhile, in Kawlin, in the Sagaing region, police opened fire on a protest march. Initial reports said that many protesters were wounded.

In Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, residents rode around streets on motorcycles chanting anti-military slogans. The bike rally coincided with protest marches in the city’s Myadaung quarter. Soldiers and police were out in force, and the protests remained peaceful.

In nearby Myingyan, a 27-year-old man died Friday, succumbing to wounds sustained when police shot him in the face on March 15. He was the sixth from the city to have been killed by police or soldiers.

Protesters also staged rallies in Mon and Kachin states, and authorities declared martial law in Monywa, the largest city in the country’s northern Sagaing region.

According to statistics from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the crackdown has killed 224 since the Feb. 1 coup, with more than 2,200 arrested, and many in hiding to avoid arrest.

RFA has confirmed more than 200 deaths and many cases of missing people.

International reaction

The envoys to Myanmar from several Western countries condemned the ongoing violence as “immoral and indefensible,” in a joint statement that addressed recent bloodshed in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar industrial district, where many were killed in the days following the torching of Chinese-owned garment factories.

“Internet blackouts and suppression of the media will not hide the military’s abhorrent actions,” the ambassadors said in a joint statement on Friday.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo in a virtual address condemned the violence and called for an emergency meeting of ASEAN to address the issue.

“Indonesia urges that the use of violence in Myanmar be stopped immediately so that there are no more victims,” he said.

“The safety and welfare of the people must be the top priority. Indonesia also urges dialogue, that reconciliation is carried out immediately to restore democracy, to restore peace and to restore stability in Myanmar,” said Joko Widodo.

Leaders from Malaysia and the Philippines also appealed to ASEAN to act on the situation in Myanmar.

The comments by the leaders are a rare display of disapproval as traditionally the 10 ASEAN countries refrain from discussing internal issues.

Meanwhile the coup leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing held a video conference with the defense chiefs of neighboring countries in what was his first international event since taking power.

The leaders of the militaries of Indonesia and Singapore expressed concern over the Myanmar situation and urged the general to refrain from using lethal force.

In Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives Friday approved legislation condemning the coup by a vote of 398 to 14. The resolution also condemned the detention of Myanmar’s civilian leaders and called for their immediate release, as well as the restoration of elected members of parliament to their seats.

Lawmakers spoke out against what they called harsh tactics employed by the junta to suppress protests.

"We must make it clear that the United States is watching and that we support the restoration of democracy," said Representative Gregory Meeks, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, while arguing in favor of the legislation.

The European Union is expected to enact similar measures next week.

Slingshot1 Protesters in Yangon re-lauching a smoke bomb back by a slingshot to the police on 03-17-2021 by CJ.jpg
Protesters in Yangon send a smoke bomb back to the police on 03-17-2021. Photo courtesy of a citizen journalist.

Meanwhile in Paris, the French backers of a major Myanmar hydropower project pulled out of the deal.

Électricité de France (EDF) told the Justice for Myanmar NGO that it was suspending involvement in the Shweli 3 hydropower project over human rights concerns.

Justice for Myanmar welcomed the withdrawal, saying that continuing with the project would have required that EDF conduct business with the junta.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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