Myanmar military mass murder of workers and youth continues

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Demonstration against the February 1st coup in Monywa, Sagaing region

THE NUMBER of protesters killed in Myanmar since February’s military coup has surpassed 320, according to the country’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which said its total only included documented cases and that the real number was likely to be much higher.

The latest tally came as security forces shot and killed three more anti-junta protesters on Friday. ‘Two were killed by head shots,’ said a witness who saw officers open fire on protesters waving black flags in the southern town of Myeik.

‘We cannot pick up the third dead body as many security forces are there,’ the witness said, adding that several other people were wounded.

Almost 3,000 people have also been arrested, charged or sentenced in the crackdown since the 1 February coup that ousted the elected government. Most, including its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the country’s president, Win Myint, remain detained.

The continuing violence came as about 300 prisoners arrested for protesting against the coup were freed on Friday, a witness and domestic media said.

Six buses full of passengers drove out of Insein prison in Yangon, a witness and ElevenMyanmar media reported.

Protests continued to take place across the country overnight and on Friday, including in the Mandalay and Sagaing regions and Karen and Chin states, media reports said.

A group of about 100 people beating drums held a protest in the central Sule area of Yangon before the security forces chased them away, witnesses said.

A seven-year-old girl was shot dead in Myanmar last week becoming the youngest known victim in the crackdown following last month’s military coup.

Khin Myo Chit’s family said she was killed by police while she ran towards her father, during a raid on their home in the city of Mandalay.

Myanmar’s military has been increasing its use of force as protests continue.

Rights group Save the Children says more than 20 children are among dozens of people who have been killed.

In total, the military says 164 people have been killed in protests, while the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group puts the death toll at at least 261.

The security forces have used live rounds against protesters, and there have been multiple eyewitness reports of people being beaten and sometimes shot as the military conducts house raids to arrest activists and protesters.

Myanmar trade unionists have been arrested and harassed in door to door searches, while others are hiding in fear, the International Labour Organisation said after receiving a formal complaint from the world’s largest trade union federation.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reported widespread restrictions on workers’ rights imposed by Myanmar’s military since the February 1st coup, the ILO’s Governing Body, shows.

‘Complaints have been received from workers who have been threatened and intimidated due to their absence from work and participation in the CDM (civil disobedience movement),’ said the ILO.

The UN agency, which monitored forced labour for years in the country, still has programmes there addressing child labour.

Military authorities have curtailed freedoms of speech and assembly, blocked social media and declared 16 labour-related organisations illegal, leaving three registered trade union confederations, the ILO said.

The ITUC lodged a complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association ‘concerning widespread violation of freedom of association and basic civil liberties by the Myanmar military’, it said of the Brussels-based body.

The forum – composed of representatives from states, employers’ groups and workers organisations – is to consider a draft resolution expressing ‘grave concern about the arrest, intimidation and threats against trade unionists, as well as the declaration that 16 labour organisations were illegal’.

The military should drop any charges against trade unions who have peacefully participated in protests, the resolution says.

ILO director-general Guy Ryder, a former ITUC head, last month issued statements calling for a halt to the intimidation of workers and restoration of civilian rule.

The Myanmar authorities released Associated Press (AP) journalist Thein Zaw from detention last Wednesday, March 24, following his arrest three weeks ago.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) are relieved Thein Zaw has been released and urge the Myanmar military to release the remaining detained journalists.

A court hearing last Wednesday resulted in Zaw’s release from Insein prison in Yangon after a judge announced all charges against him would be dropped because he was doing his job at the time of his arrest. Leaving prison, he was taken home by his brothers and friend, looking ‘visibly thinner than before his arrest’.

Ian Phillips, the AP vice president for international news said they were ‘deeply relieved that AP journalist Thein Zaw has been freed from prison in Myanmar’.

Zaw said: ‘I’m looking forward to meeting my family members,’ and ‘I’m sorry for some colleagues who are still in prison.’

Zaw was taken into custody in Yangon on February 27 after being charged under the country’s public order law for allegedly ‘causing fear, spreading false news or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee’.

Myanmar authorities detained ten journalists across February 27 and 28 who were covering protests against the military coup. Myanmar’s public order law was hastily amended last month, when the military junta broadened its scope and increased the maximum prison sentence from two to three years.

On Wednesday, authorities also released more than 600 demonstrators who were arrested during the brutal crackdown.

The move can be seen as a ‘conciliatory gesture’ from the military, in attempts to appease protesters.

The detainment of protests has been a hallmark of the military takeover, with BCC News reporting at least 40 journalists have been arrested since the February 1st coup.

The IFJ said: ‘Journalists must be afforded the right to work safely and freely instead of being arrested for simply doing their job. Press freedom is vital in times of political conflict.

‘However the continual arrest of journalists in Myanmar signals a disregard by the Myanmar military-junta for the rights of media workers and democracy.

‘The release of AP journalist Thein Zaw is a positive development and the IFJ urge the Myanmar military to ensure the release of the remaining journalists still detained.’

An eye witness account of night raids follows: When the police and soldiers arrived in the middle of the night, they fired their guns into the air, threw stones through the windows and threatened to drive a car through the front door if no one opened it. U Shwe Win and his family were asleep. It was 2.30am.

The police and soldiers had come to arrest Shwe Win’s son, Ko Win Htut Nyein. When they found him, they beat and handcuffed the 19-year-old before hauling him away. His offence, the family was told, was taking videos of the police at a protest in Mandalay the day before.

More than two weeks later, Shwe Win is still searching for his son. The authorities say they have no record of his arrest.

‘I felt so hopeless, like I had lost everything at that moment,’ Shwe Win said.

‘I still don’t know where my son is. I don’t want him to die in their hands, and I worry that they will torture him.’

As they carry out their arrests, soldiers and the police steal money, mobile phones and car keys, victims and witnesses said in interviews. Some protesters have said they were released only after paying money to the police.

They are the lucky ones.

In Mandalay, Ko Myo Hein Kyaw, 24, disappeared after his arrest at a protest. His family was informed last Friday – four days later – that he had died and that his body had been cremated.

In other cases, bodies have been returned to families with visible injuries and little explanation.

U Zaw Myat Lynn, an activist with the National League for Democracy who headed a vocational training centre for the party, was arrested around midnight on March 8th. The next day, the police directed his wife, Daw Phyu Phyu Win, to go to a military hospital to identify his body.

She saw many bruises on his face, she said in an interview.

The rest of the body was wrapped in a cloth, but photos showed a wound to his abdomen, which was listed as the cause of death.

The official autopsy report said he had suffered the abdomen injury during an escape attempt when he jumped from a height of 30 feet onto a fence. His wife believes he was stabbed to death.