Myanmar’s military junta threatened to act against anyone who takes part in the “Silent Strike” to mark the one-year anniversary of the coup that put it in power, but members of the public said the protest would go forward as planned.
Applauding, honking car horns or playing drums in support of the strike planned for Feb. 1 are acts punishable by up to life imprisonment, according to a statement issued by the junta on Tuesday. Property related to the cases can also be confiscated, the statement warned.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, a resident of Yangon named Lin Htet Aung said that the junta’s threats suggest it is “afraid” of a mass protest but said the public “will not back down.”
“In the last silent protest, people throughout the country participated of their own will. The military knocked down or smashed some shops that were closed. In the days that followed, shop owners were not allowed to open them,” he said.
“The junta is afraid that the entire public will be involved. But no matter what statements they make, I believe people will take part in this action.”
Last month, a nationwide Silent Strike was held on Dec. 10 to mark Human Rights Day in protest of the junta and its brutal crackdown following the coup. The strike left many cities and towns empty as citizens stayed home in solidarity.
Since deposing the democratically elected National League for Democracy in February, junta forces have killed nearly 1,500 civilians and arrested more than 8,780 — mostly during nonviolent protests of military rule — and are engaged in multiple offensives against ethnic armed groups and anti-junta militias.
Wai Yan, a young student leader from the city of Mandalay, said the junta’s most recent statement against the strike constitutes a “violation of human rights.”
“As human beings, we have the right to freely do what we want. I may just want to be alone and stay home, or I may want to open or close my shop,” he said.
“The military council has violated human rights so many times. They will be wicked and cruel no matter what.”
‘Win through cleverness’
Asked by RFA about the statement, junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun agreed that members of the public may exercise their basic rights if they do so “without compromising security and public welfare.”
“However, if the security or the well-being of the people is affected, it is no longer a fundamental right,” he said.
“This is a kind of disruption of public order. That is why we are trying to stop what might disrupt daily commerce and trading. Disrupting socio-economic life is not a fundamental human right. These are forced inventions. Actually, we are protecting the fundamental rights of the people.”
But Thura Aung, an organizer of the Silent Strike in Mandalay, said that the public will not back down in the face of junta intimidation.
“I’m calling on the people to win through cleverness, rather than remaining cowered in fear,” he said. “It’s been nearly a year that people have stood firm for truth and [right]. I believe we will continue our revolt against the junta steadfastly.”
Next week’s planned protest will mark the third public Silent Strike since the military seized power in February last year. In addition to the strike on Dec. 10, a nationwide protest was also held on March 24, 2021. Prior to both strikes, the military made announcements in all townships calling on people to go about their daily lives but failed to prevent the protests.
A lawyer in the commercial capital Yangon, who spoke to RFA’s Myanmar Service on condition of anonymity citing security reasons, said authorities will have a difficult time making a case for prosecution against strike participants, many of whom will show their opposition to military rule by simply staying home on Feb. 1.
“According to the law, action can only be taken against a person if he or she commits a crime,” he said. “How are they going to legally judge whether someone is taking part in a Silent Strike? … Some people might stay home because they do not want to be ostracized by others if they go leave the house.”
— Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.