The situation in Myanmar is turning from bad to worse as the public agitation against military takeover of the country has refused to abate. Every day since the military coup in February the people of Myanmar have steadfastly taken to the streets demanding restoration of civil democratic rule. The intensity of agitation has compelled the Myanmar’s ruling junta to declare martial law in six townships in the country’s largest city, as security forces killed dozens of protesters over the weekend in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month’s military coup.
State broadcaster MRTV said that the Yangon townships of North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan and North Okkalapa have been put under martial law. An initial announcement was made saying two other townships — Hlaing Thar Yar and neighbouring Shwepyitha — were being placed under martial law. At least 38 people were killed on Sunday and dozens were injured in one of the deadliest days of the crackdown on anti-coup protesters but several estimates from other sources gave higher figures. The military junta is consistently complicating efforts to organise new protests as well as media coverage of the crisis as mobile internet service has been cut though access is still available through fixed broadband connections.
The protestors have been using Mobile data service to stream live video coverage of protests, often showing security forces attacking demonstrators. It had been turned off only from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. for several weeks, with no official explanation. The blockage of internet service forced postponement of a court hearing in the capital, Natpyitaw, for Myanmar’s detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was supposed to take part via a video conference. Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained during the 1 February military takeover and have been charged with several criminal offenses that their supporters believe are politically motivated to keep them locked up.
Since the takeover six weeks ago, Myanmar has been under a nationwide state of emergency, with its civilian leaders ousted and detained and military leaders in charge of all government but Sunday’s announcement was the first use of martial law since the coup and suggested more direct military control of security, instead of local police. The announcement said that the State Administrative Council acted to enhance security and restore law and order and that the Yangon regional commander has been entrusted with administrative, judicial and military powers in the area under his command. The orders cover six of Yangon’s 33 townships, all of which suffered major violence in recent days.
The reports mentioned 34 deaths taking place in Yangon and a video recorded from Hlaing Thar Yar Township showed people running away after gunfire was heard at nighttime. Those fleeing carried one injured person and tried to revive two others, one who seemed to be dead or dying. Hlaing Thar Yar was the location of 22 civilian deaths along with more than a dozen civilians wounded and a large number of junta forces engaged in the township. Four other deaths were reported in the cities of Bago, Mandalay, and Hpakant. In a new tactic, anti-coup demonstrators used the cover of darkness to hold mass candlelight vigils in various parts of Yangon over the weekend, including some that took place after 8 p.m., when a curfew imposed by authorities starts.
The protest movement has been grounded in nonviolent civil disobedience from the start, with marches and general strikes among its main features but some protesters have advocated stronger, more agile methods of self-defense — such as holding small rallies that are quick to disband and reunite and devising cover from fire extinguishers, billowing laundry and burning tires. The death toll has now estimated to be hovering over 100. Confirmation of the number of casualties is nearly impossible due to the security situation and a crackdown on independent media in Myanmar but various groups have compiled tallies with similar figures. The actual death toll is likely higher, as police apparently have seized some bodies and some victims have had serious gunshot wounds that medical staff at makeshift clinics would be hard-pressed to treat.
Many hospitals are occupied by security forces and as a result are boycotted by medical personnel and shunned by protesters. Police have also aggressively patrolled residential neighbourhoods at night, firing into the air and setting off stun grenades as an intimidation tactic. They have also taken people from their homes in targeted raids with minimal resistance and in at least two known cases, the detainees died in custody within hours of being hauled away.
The deaths came as the leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan vowed to work together to restore democracy in Myanmar, where violence has escalated as authorities crack down on protests and civil disobedience. South Korea said it would suspend defence exchanges and reconsider development aid to Myanmar because of the violence. The Kremlin said Russia, which has close ties to Myanmar’s military, was concerned about the mounting violence and analysing whether to suspend military-technical. Posters spread on social media calling on people to come out on the streets to protest against the junta and to mark the anniversary of the death of Phone Maw, who was shot and killed by security forces in 1988 inside what was then known as the Rangoon Institute of Technology campus. TW