Myanmar’s ruling junta has imposed martial law in six townships in the country’s largest city, Yangon, after security forces killed dozens of demonstrators over the weekend in a rising crackdown on opposition to the military coup last month.
North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan, and North Okkalapa townships in Yangon have been declared martial law, according to state broadcaster MRTV. Late Sunday, it was announced that two more townships, Hlaing Thar Yar and neighboring Shwepyitha, will be put under martial law.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, or AAPP, an independent organisation monitoring the toll of the brutality, at least 38 people were killed and hundreds were wounded on Sunday in one of the worst days of the crackdown on anti-coup demonstrators. Several projections from other sources placed the number at a higher level.
Mobile internet service has been cut, complicating attempts to coordinate new protests as well as media coverage of the crisis, though fixed broadband connections remain open.
Mobile data services have been used to broadcast live video coverage of demonstrations, with security forces often targeting protesters. For some weeks, it had been switched off only from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m., with no official statement.
According to Aung San Suu Kyi’s counsel, Khin Maung Zaw, a court hearing in the capital, Natpyitaw, for Myanmar’s detained chief, Aung San Suu Kyi, was forced to be postponed due to a lack of internet access. Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were arrested during the military occupation on February 1 and have been charged with a number of criminal offences, which their supporters claim was politically motivated in order to keep them imprisoned.
Myanmar has been in a state of emergency since the takeover six weeks ago, with civilian leaders arrested and military leaders in charge of the entire country. However, the declaration of martial law on Sunday was the first since the coup, and it meant that the military would be in charge of security rather than local police.
The State Administrative Council took steps to strengthen security and restore law and order, according to the announcement, and the Yangon regional commander has been granted administrative, judicial, and military powers in the area under his command. The orders refer to six of Yangon’s 33 townships, all of which have witnessed recent significant abuse.
Thirty-four people were killed in Yangon. People in the Hlaing Thar Yar township were seen fleeing after gunfire was heard late at night. According to footage from the independent Democratic Voice of Burma, those fleeing carried one wounded person and attempted to revive two others, one of whom appeared to be dead or dying.
According to the AAPP, 22 civilians were killed and more than a dozen others were injured in Hlaing Thar Yar on Sunday. The township was also home to a large number of junta troops.
According to the AAPP and local media, four more deaths were registered in Bago, Mandalay, and Hpakant.
Anti-coup protesters used the cover of darkness to stage mass candlelight vigils in various parts of Yangon over the weekend, including those that occurred after 8 p.m., when authorities placed a curfew.
From the outset, the protest movement has been focused on peaceful civil disobedience, with marches and general strikes being among its most popular features. However, some demonstrators have called for more effective, more flexible self-defense tactics, such as holding small rallies that disperse and reassemble quickly, and creating cover with fire extinguishers, billowing laundry, and burning tires.
The number of civilians killed by security forces since the coup has now reached 100, according to the AAPP. Owing to the security situation and a crackdown on independent media in Myanmar, confirming the number of casualties is virtually impossible, but different organisations have compiled tallies with similar estimates.
The true death toll is undoubtedly higher, as police have reportedly recovered some bodies, and some victims have suffered severe gunshot wounds that makeshift hospitals will fail to treat. Many hospitals are occupied by security forces, and as a result, medical staff boycott them and demonstrators avoid them.
As an intimidation tactic, police have also patrolled suburban areas at night, shooting into the air and using stun grenades. They’ve even removed people from their homes with no opposition in targeted raids. The inmates died in detention within hours of being taken away in at least two reported instances.