Thousands of people across Myanmar are staging a “silent strike" as a continued show of opposition to the ruling military junta enters its 51st consecutive day.
Pro-democracy activists are urging others to stay home and not patronize any businesses for the day, a new tactic devised to avoid the military’s increasingly deadly response to the daily demonstrations, which have taken place non-stop since de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking members of the civilian government were removed from power and detained by the military on February 1.
Eyewitness reports say the “silent” strikes have had a big impact with the streets of Yangon and other cities practically empty save for an occasional motorist or cyclist.
The local activist group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says at least 275 people have been killed by military forces during the crackdown. One of those killed was a 7-year-old girl who was shot Tuesday when soldiers broke into her home in Mandalay, according to Myanmar Now and Reuters. The child was reportedly sitting on her father’s lap when the soldiers broke in and demanded to know if everyone in the family was at home. The father said yes, but the soldiers accused him of lying and opened fire, hitting the girl.
The AAPP says more than 2,000 people have been arrested and detained since the crackdown began. News outlets say several buses full of anti-coup protesters drove away from Insein Prison in the main city of Yangon Wednesday in an apparent goodwill gesture by the junta. Both the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse (AFP) puts the number of those freed at more than 600.
Among those who have been released is AP journalist Thein Zaw, who was arrested while covering a street protest in Yangon along with eight other media workers.
In a statement Wednesday, Farhan Haq, spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General, noted the release of some protesters but said the U.N. remains concerned over “ongoing arbitrary arrests, including of journalists and civil society leaders.”
Haq called for the release of “all those arbitrarily detained, including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” and expressed alarm over the killing of the 7-year-old girl.
The U.N. spokesman urged the military government to exercise “maximum restraint” as Armed Forces Day on March 27 approaches. He called for “accountability for all the crimes and human rights violations that continue to be perpetrated in Myanmar.”
Meanwhile, a virtual court appearance scheduled for Wednesday for Suu Kyi in the capital, Naypyitaw, has been postponed until April 1.
Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer for Suu Kyi, told VOA that police blocked the thoroughfare that led to the courthouse, and only allowed two junior lawyers to enter. Khin says the judge told the two lawyers the video conferencing sessions on Wednesday’s docket could not take place.
Wednesday’s appearance by Suu Kyi was originally scheduled for March 15, but was called off because of a lack of internet service. Authorities have imposed nightly internet shutdowns for several weeks to prevent any sharing of protests from across the country.
The 75-year-old Nobel Peace laureate is facing four charges, including the possession of unlicensed walkie-talkies, violating COVID-19 restrictions, breaching telecommunication laws and incitement to cause public unrest.
The military regime has also accused Suu Kyi of accepting $600,000 in illegal payments plus gold bars while in office.
Junta leaders also justified their coup by saying the Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent — an accusation the electoral commission rejected.