Thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon on Saturday to condemn this week’s coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the first demonstration since the generals seized power.
“Military dictator, fail, fail; democracy, win, win,” protesters chanted, urging the military to release Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi and other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD), which has been held since the coup on Monday. .
“Against military dictatorship” read the banner at the front of the march. Many protesters dressed in NLD red and some carried red flags.
Myanmar’s junta has tried to silence disagreements by temporarily blocking Facebook and extending the power of social media to Twitter and Instagram on Saturday ahead of the growing protest movement.
The authorities ordered internet providers to deny access to Twitter and Instagram “for the time being”, says the Norwegian mobile company Telenor Asa.
Demand for VPNs has increased in Myanmar, allowing some people to avoid the ban, but users reported more general disruptions to mobile data services, which most of the country’s 53 million trust in news and communications.
“We lost freedom, justice and need urgent democracy,” wrote one Twitter user. “Please hear the voice from Myanmar.”
Army Chief of Staff Min Aung Hlaing seized power on November 8 in a landslide election that the NLD won in a landslide. The Electoral Commission dismissed the army’s allegations.
The junta announced a state of emergency for a year and has promised to hand over power after new elections without giving a time frame.
The takeover brought international condemnation with a UN Security Council request for the release of all detained and targeted sanctions being considered by Washington.
Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen in public since the coup. She spent about 15 years under house arrest during a fight against former junta before the troubled democratic transition began in 2011.
Suu Kyi’s lawyer and fired President Win Myint said they were being held at home and that he could not meet them because they were still being questioned. Suu Kyi faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies while Win Myint is accused of violating coronavirus restrictions.
“Of course we want unconditionally because they have not broken the law,” said Khin Maung Zaw, a veteran lawyer representing them both.
Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Suu Kyi, told Reuters on Saturday that he was being held.
“I guess you will hear about it soon, but I will be detained,” he said. “Being accused of something, but not sure what. I’m good and strong and not guilty of anything,” he said with a smiling emoji.
It was then not possible to contact him.
Saturday’s protest is the first sign of street unrest in a country with a history of bloody attacks on protesters. There were also protests against coups in Melbourne, Australia and the Taiwanese capital Taipei on Saturday.
A civil disobedience movement has been built in Myanmar all week, with doctors and teachers among those refusing to work, and every night people hit pots and pans in a display of anger.
In addition to about 150 arrests in the wake of the coup reported by human rights groups, local media said about 30 people have been detained because of the noise protests.
The United States is considering targeted sanctions on individuals and entities controlled by the Myanmar military.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressured Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in a phone call on Friday to condemn the coup, the Foreign Ministry said.
China, which has close ties with Myanmar’s military, agreed on the Security Council statement but did not condemn the military takeover and said it should act in the stability of its neighbor Myanmar.
UN Myanmar envoy Christine Schraner Burgener strongly condemned the coup in a conversation with Myanmar’s deputy military chief Soe Win and called for the immediate release of all detainees, a UN spokesman said.
The generals have few foreign interests that would be vulnerable to international sanctions, but the military’s extensive business investment could be affected if foreign partners leave – as the Japanese beverage company Kirin Holdings said it would on Friday.
Telenor, another company attracted by investing in Myanmar’s decade of opening up, said it was legally obliged to follow the order to block certain social media, but “emphasized the directive’s contradiction with international human rights.”
The US-based press group Human Rights Watch called for the lifting of internet restrictions, the release of detainees and the cessation of threats against journalists.
“A news and information suspension of the coup leaders cannot hide their politically motivated arrests and other abuses,” said Asian director Brad Adams.