Military coup is a dark chapter for human rights in Burma

April 7, 2021

HURFOM: The February-1 military coup has pulled Burma back into the past of more than 3 decades ago and opened a dark chapter for human rights in the country. Upholding basic human rights was a struggle under the civilian government, but now with brutal killings taking place in the streets on a regular basis , human rights has hit rock bottom under the military junta.

In Mon State, the human rights situation is also deteriorating, with violations of fundamental human rights accelerating. There have been brutal killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, no right to information, restriction of movement, lack of protection to local businesses and a ban on the delivery of humanitarian aid.

1) Brutal killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions

Since the February 1 military coup, 8 people from Mon State have been killed by the security forces. Half of the victims were young people under 25. There were also victims under the age of 18. Some of the victims were shot in the head.

“The boy didn’t participate in the protest. He was at a soft drink shop at home and then shot to death,” said an activist from Mawlamyine.

Kyaik Hto, Thaton and Paung Townships all have lost people and Mawlamyine has had  5 victims to date.

According to the data from HURFOM, there are about 500 detainees in the Mon, Karen and Dawei area of Southern Burma. Reporters have also been arrested.

“Residents were arrested without doing anything wrong. People are helpless. They have to run away when police and soldiers enter their ward,” reported a community member.

During the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, security forces are destroying motorbikes, shops and robbing people of their property.

Yesterday, (the security forces) took goats, money and food from Thiri Myine Ward. That was the first time that the security forces were violent in the ward. It’s terrible,”said one activist.

2) No right to information

Since February 1, 2021, there have been 23 days of shut downs of mobile data services and no access to public wifi service for 21 days.

There have been daily restrictions to internet access (1am to 6:30am or 9am). This has been taking place for 51  days and blocks to some website pages have been in place for 62 days.

“The Internet shouldn’t be cut off in this situation. Now, the people do not know which information is right or wrong. Limiting access to the Internet leads to trouble. The most important thing is that we don’t know that people are marching in the streets. I am worried that there will be more rumors,” said a Mawlamyine resident.

On March 8, 2021, the military council abolished the broadcast licences of 5 local media agencies and banned them from using any broadcasting platform. This sanction has been followed up with security forces targeting reporters on the ground.

“When recording protests, the reporters must now be protected from the security forces. The reporters get no protection from the military junta and they are threatened by the security forces,” stated an official from the Southern Myanmar Journalist Network (SMJN).

As of March 20, 2021, 41 reporters have been arrested across Burma.  19 are still detained and 11 have been charged with violating article 505 (A) allegedly for ‘causing fear, spreading false news, agitating directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee.’

3) Restriction of movements

Now, right to freedom of movement is totally lost,” said a taxi driver from Ye Township.

Since February 1, soldiers and the police in Mon State routinely check vehicles and smartphones of passengers at the entrances to cities.

“They have been checking our phones and motorbikes so we dare not take our phone when going to the city. People are afraid to go downtown. There were about 15 policemen and soldiers at the gate. It makes me feel fearful,” said one resident.

Soldiers and the police check social media activity on the phones of those they detain seeking anything related to anti coup protests to justify arrests.

“On February 28, when coming to Thanbyuzayat, my bike was stopped by a policeman at the gate nearby the junction of Pa Nga and Wel Ton Chaung. First, he forced me to open my bike’s tool box and then unlock my phone. He checked my Facebook account and photo gallery,” said another resident.

In addition to these acts of intimidating, armed forces personnel have tried  to establish military bases at schools and hospitals. There have even been rumors the military is again using forced labor to carry military rations and supplies. “The rumor of the military again [forcing residents to become] unpaid porters has emerged every night. Some villagers are frightened and run away,” said a hundred household leader from Mudon Township.

In order to suppress civilians, the military revoked specific human rights sections (#5, #7, and #8)of “the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens” on February 13, 2021.

The military has also re-approved the Law of “Reporting overnight visitors” which was abolished by the NLD government. Newly appointed Ward/Village administrators have forced local people to report any visitors and threatened that if they fail to do so, they would be imprisoned for three years or fined 300,000 Kyat.

4) Lack of protection to local businesses

With the  political situation becoming increasingly unstable, growing fears, armed forces wantonly killing, and/or beating residents and destroying property, businesses can not operate normally.

The military junta imposed a nightly curfew from 8 pm to 4 am in Mawlamyine, Kyaik Hto, Paung, Chaung Zone, Thanbyuzayat and Ye Townships of Mon State. There are now rumors military forces are arresting and extorting rubber plantation workers who try to travel to their plantations to tap rubber trees.  Tapping requires cooler weather conditions, so the workers travel at night or early mornings.

“We’ve heard that rubber plantation workers from Mudon were arrested and soldiers extorted 300,000 Kyats from them. After hearing this news, workers/owners dare not go to their plantation. They won’t go to their plantations until 4 am,” said a worker from Thanbyuzayat.

The curfew has meant production rates and incomes have declined.

I did rubber tapping in two plantations but now I can go to just one. We can’t work at night. When encountering soldiers on the way to our plantations, they stopped and checked us and shouted at me. So I don’t want to go to the plantations. So I gave up a plantation,” said a rubber tapper from Thanbyuzayat.

Small and  medium enterprise (SME’s)  owners from Mon State are experiencing economic hardships since the coup.

I don’t mention that big businesses don’t have impacts but SME’s are more challenged. Now there is no trade any more. I can’t predict how long this situation will go on but it’s pretty sure our business is broken down,” said an electric store owner from Thanbyuzayat.

Businesses in Mon State were already suffering due to COVID-19 and now the military coup makes things worse. Business owners hoped for a recovery when news of the vaccine was announced but the coup has destroyed those hopes.

We’ve just run our salt farm but there is no trade. It’s also difficult for transportation. So there is nearly no buy and sale. If the situation continues, all business owners will surely be in trouble,” said a salt farm owner from Pa Nga village.

The coup has essentially ended the tourism business in Mon State with 200 tourist guides losing their jobs. Due to the COVID-19, the number of tourists to Mon State had already declined by 90% — now the unstable political condition has essentially ended the tourism business.

5) Ban on humanitarian aid

On March 15, 2021, two staff from a charity group in Kyaik Kha Mi, Thanbyuzayat were arrested and charged with violating the curfew, also referred to as Act #188.  They were  transporting emergency patients to a hospital at night. They have been sentenced to one month imprisonment.

Volunteers who help provide emergency services are now afraid of transporting patients after 8 pm.

Ban on the transporting emergency patients is unacceptable because it’s related to patients’ life. The authority should allow this. The court decision against  the two staff from Kyaik Kha Mi was unjust. After that incident, no one wants to transport patients at night,” said one resident from Thanbyuzayat.

Bo Bo Win Emergency Rescues Teams based in Mawlaymine  announced on April 2 they would no longer transport emergency patients to hospital at night.

Water donations have also been impacted by the military coup. Local villagers report that due to the unstable situation, donors who had previously provided financial support to provide clean water during hot summers are diminishing.

“As there was no water donor group, we have had to buy water for a long time. Each time this costs us about 3,500 or 4,000 Kyat. There were lots of water donors in the previous years so it didn’t cost us much. This year, we have to buy water till the rains come. It looks like we have to use extra money to buy water,” said a woman from Thanbyuzayat who has to buy water for daily use.

Most of the townships in Mon State have a shortage of clean water every summer, but donation activities in the past helped villagers with access to water.

“The political situation is getting worse this year so we can’t manage to get donations of water. Also our members are no longer able to volunteer and we can’t organize them. So there is no water donation this year,” said a member of a water donation group in Mudon Township.

Young people and students are those most interested in doing charity work. Now they have been involved in protesting against the dictatorship.

The UN Human Rights Council expressed deep concerns regarding the brutal killings of peaceful protesters, restrictions on media agencies and cutting off WiFi and mobile internet services. The Council released a statement on March 24, 2021 indicating that all members  condemn the military action of removing an elected civilian government.

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