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Repression and crackdown on civil society in Myanmar

Captura de pantalla de 2021-05-26 13-23-40 partners have been informed about the killing of Ah Khu, director of the civil society group Women for Justice, as well as the arbitrary detention of Thin Thin Aung and Myo Aye. Thin Thin Aung is the co-founder of Women for Justice, leading member of Women’s League of Burma, and co-founder of the independent Mizzima News outlet. Myo Aye is a labour rights activist and director of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar (STUM).

On 28 March 2021, Ah Khu was fatally shot in the chest by the military junta’s security forces during a peaceful anti-coup protest in Kale Township, Sagaing Region. On April 8, 2021, Thin Thin Aung was arbitrarily arrested in Yangon’s Botahtaung Township, and taken to the Yay Kyi Ai military interrogation centre in Yangon’s Insein Township. On 9 April 2021, military security forces raided her apartment in Yangon and seized her belongings, including her computers. On 15 April 2021, Myo Aye was arrested at her office in Yangon’s Shwepyithar Township by around 40 members of the military junta’s security forces. Myo Aye was then taken to a police station for interrogation.

Earlier in the month, our partners were informed about the killing of Khet Thi and Sein Win, two poets who have been critical of the military junta and publicly supported the ongoing pro-democracy protests, as well as the sentencing and arbitrary detention of Min Nyo, a journalist with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) media outlet, who had been reporting on the pro-democracy protests.

Since the military coup of 1 February 2021, thousands of people have been gathering across the country daily to peacefully protest the military’s seizure of power and to call for an end to the military dictatorship. These peaceful protests have been met with a violent crackdown which has resulted in the death of more than 700 civilians and the detention of more than 3,000 people. Human rights defenders, civil society organisations, and journalists who have been documenting and reporting on human rights violations by the military junta have been particularly targeted. Among them, women human rights defenders, particularly those with international advocacy experience, are especially at risk of being arbitrarily arrested, detained or killed.

The military has been conducting a campaign of attacks and intimidation against human rights defenders and civil society groups in order to silence all forms of protest and dissent. Following the coup, thousands of people across the country gathered peacefully to protest the power grab and to call for an end to the military dictatorship. Two months on, while the demonstrations calling for the restoration of the elected civilian government in the country continue, violent, and often deadly, reprisals against protesters have also increased. The police and military are using unnecessary and disproportionate force, arbitrarily arresting and detaining peaceful protesters, and subjecting many of them to torture and other acts of ill-treatment, including blocking protesters access to the medical treatment. Over 500 civilians have been killed in the ongoing crackdown.

Civil society organisations, human rights defenders and journalists who have been documenting the atrocities committed by the military have been beaten, detained, threatened fired from their jobs or had their homes or offices raided. The military has adopted a twin strategy of ruthlessly silencing independent voices while attempting to spread disinformation to confuse people. Constant internet shut-downs and disruption of service aimed at discouraging the protests and the Civil Disobedience Movement have made it more difficult to access reliable and prompt information. In addition, digital surveillance and curfews have further hindered attempts to verify and publicise information. With the transfer of funds blocked and the banking infrastructure severely curtailed, it has been increasingly difficult for civil society organisations to sustain their vital work.

The targeting of human rights defenders has forced them to flee their homes. Arrest warrants have been issued against several defenders and members of civil society, and many have been declared fugitives. Family members of human rights defenders have also been subjected to relentless threats, intimidation and harassment by authorities. About 40 journalists reporting on the protests have been detained, and several media outlets have been banned or shut down Human rights defenders in rural areas, including the Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Chin and Mon areas, have also been subjected to attacks. Offices of human rights organisations in these areas have been raided and ransacked by security forces and defenders have been detained, or even killed, as can be seen in the killing of woman human rights defender Ma Ah Khu from Women for Justice. Unlike some of their colleagues in urban centres, human rights defenders have found it more difficult to move to safer places because of more limited resources.

In Myanmar, ranked 140 in the RSF World Press Freedom Index, the coup d’état of 1 February 2021 brought that fragile progress to an abrupt end and set Myanmar’s journalists back ten years. They again face systematic arrest campaigns and censorship, and many will resign themselves to working clandestinely in order to be free to report what is happening and to evade the police. This coup was not a complete surprise inasmuch as the climate for press freedom had already been worsening again during the past three years. The biggest blow was the arrest in 2018 of two Reuters reporters who had been investigating a massacre of Rohingya civilians. They were finally pardoned after more than 500 days in prison, but their conviction on the basis of fabricated evidence and bogus criminal proceedings served as a warning to all journalists to think twice before attempting investigative reporting that could upset either the civilian government or “Tatmadaw,” as the armed forces are known.