BANGKOK – Security forces in Myanmar have arrested dozens of people in a preemptive move to suppress plans for a nationwide strike Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the army’s seizure of power, state-run media reported.
Opponents of military rule in the country have called for a “Silent Strike” aimed at emptying the streets of Myanmar's cities and towns by having people stay home and businesses shut their doors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. One of the planned follow-up protests then wants supporters to make noise by banging pots and pans, or honking horns.
The military’s takeover on Feb. 1, 2021, ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second five-year term in office after winning a landslide victory in the previous year's November election.
At least 58 people have been arrested since last week after posting notices on Facebook that their shops and businesses would be closed on Tuesday, according to reports in the state-run Myanma Alinn Daily newspaper.
The detainees from the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Myawaddy include shopkeepers, restaurant owners, a doctor, a make-up artist, a mobile phone repair shop owner and an astrologer, Myanma Alinn Daily reported.
Their arrests followed official warnings that people participating in the strike could be arrested and put on trial, including for offenses under the Counter-Terrorism Law that carry maximum penalties of life imprisonment and the possible confiscation of their property.
The crackdown was confirmed by friends and family of some of the targets, including the SIP Café Club coffeeshop in Mandalay.
“The (Facebook) page announced it would be closed on Feb. 1 by using the words ‘Silent Strike,’ and the cafe was confiscated,” one of its workers told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal from the authorities.
Two previous “Silent Strikes” last year, in March and on Human Rights Day in December, appeared to enjoy popular support despite intimidation by the authorities, which in some cases did not allow participating shops to reopen until a week later.
The government’s warnings pose a dilemma for ethnic Chinese business owners because Tuesday falls during the celebration of Lunar New Year, when many would close their shops for the holiday.
Widespread nonviolent demonstrations followed the army's takeover initially, but armed resistance began after protests were put down with lethal force. About 1,500 civilians have died but the government has been unable to suppress the insurgency.
President Joe Biden in a statement marking the anniversary called for the military to reverse its actions, free Suu Kyi and other detainees and engage in meaningful dialogue to return Myanmar on a path to democracy. The State Department also said it was working closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, to hold accountable those responsible for the takeover.
The head of the military government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday went through the formality of obtaining a six-month extension on a state of emergency allowing the State Administration Council, the body that assumed power in last year's takeover, to continue running the country.
The extension was granted by the National Defense and Security Council, whose membership is made up of the top military chiefs and cooperative politicians, state television MRTV reported. The military government has already declared its intention to maintain a state of emergency until it holds a new election in August 2023.
As part of the process of applying for the extension, the State Administration Council, which exercises executive, legislative and some judicial powers, submitted a report about its work over the last 12 months to justify the extension.
The council declared that it had done its best to carry out its duties, but that threats from domestic and foreign “terrorists” remained and that it has more work to do before elections can be held.
The military has designated the main groups opposed to its rule as terrorist organizations.