Death toll in Myanmar’s anti-coup protests rises as brutal crackdown continues

At least 8 protestors were killed by security forces in Myanmar between March 12 and 13. Amid a steady escalation of state violence, the death toll is estimated to have crossed 70

March 14, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Anti-coup protesters in Myanmar. Photo: Naw Wut Yee Le/Twitter

At least four people were killed during a sit-in protest in the city of Mandalay in Myanmar on the morning of March 13th, according to local media. MyanmarNow and The Irrawaddy have also confirmed that three people died after being shot during night protests in the Thaketa and Hlaing townships in Yangon on Friday. MyanmarNow has reported that a 19-year-old university student was also killed in the town of Pyay in the Bago region. With the steady escalation of state violence, the death toll in Myanmar’s anti-coup protests is estimated to have crossed 70.

With mounting reports of deaths and injuries, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, raised concerns over possible crimes against humanity being committed by security forces in the country. In a statement to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, he cited reports of murders, detentions, and the beatings of protesters, bystanders, and even medics. There is also video and photographic evidence of police and soldiers destroying property and looting shops. Rights group Amnesty International had recently published new research documenting the planned use of lethal forces by Burmese security forces against civilians.

This is based on an analysis of 55 video clips filmed between 28th February and 8th March from cities including Dawei, Mandalay, Mawlamyine, Monywa, Myeik, Myitkyina and Yangon. There is evidence of premeditated and systematic strategies of attack and extensive use of battlefield weapons. These include semi-automatic and sniper rifles and submachine guns.  There is also evidence of excessive use of tear gas, water cannons, flashbang grenades, and physical violence in the form of beatings.

Moreover, military units, including the Yangon Command, and the 33rd, 77th, and 101st Light Infantry Divisions (LID), have been seen operating alongside police officers. Some of these divisions have been previously implicated in human rights violations committed in Rakhine, Kachin, and the northern Shan states. The 33rd Light Infantry Division, in particular, was implicated by Amnesty International in the war crimes committed in the northern Shan state in 2016 and 2017 and the crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya community in 2017.

Security forces have also resorted to mass arrests in an effort to repress the protests, sometimes detaining hundreds of people within a single day. As of Friday, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has estimated that 2,092 individuals have been arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup on February 1. Out of this, 1,773 are currently in detention or have outstanding warrants.

Alongside civilian arrests, at least three officials from the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by now deposed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained in the past two weeks. Khin Maung Latt, who was a ward chairman in the Pabedan township in Yangon, died in custody after being detained by security forces on March 6. His family was asked to recover his body from the Mingaladon military hospital on March 7. According to witness accounts cited by Human Rights Watch, there were severe wounds on his hands and back consistent with torture.

The custodial death of another NLD official, Zaw Myat Lin, was confirmed by a member of the upper house of the now dissolved parliament, Bao Myo Thein, on March 9th. Zaw Myat Lin, who was the head of a Suu Vocational Institute, had been detained at around 1:30 am local time on March 8. His wife was called to identify his body in the same military hospital the next day. She reported seeing a large wound on his abdomen which the military has claimed he got while trying to escape arrest. MyanmarNow also reported a raid on the residences of railway workers involved in the country’s civil disobedience movement in the Mingalar Taung Nyunt township in Yangon on March 10th. Security forces have also raided the offices of several media organizations. The military junta has also filed a lawsuit against The Irrawaddy under Section 505a of the penal code. The charges are related to the intent to cause any military personnel to mutiny or to disregard their duties.

Meanwhile, NLD Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and deposed President Win Myint have been in detention since February 1. The military junta announced a fifth charge against Suu Kyi on March 11th, accusing her of accepting illegal payments worth $600,000 as well as gold. She is already facing charges related to violations of an import-export law, the possession of illegal walkie-talkie devices, a violation of  Myanmar’s Disaster Management Law, using equipment without a license under the Telecommunication law, and a charge under Section 505b of the criminal code related to incitement to “commit an offence against the state”. The next round of court hearings has been scheduled for March 15th.