Myanmar celebrity model arrested as military targets public figures

Social media accounts of Paing Takhon, who has a huge online following, are taken down following anti-coup comments

One of Myanmar’s most popular celebrities, the model and actor Paing Takhon, has been arrested by a military that is increasingly targeting celebrities who have criticised the coup.

Paing Takhon, who has a huge online following, was detained at 5am on Thursday, and is the latest of thousands of people to be held since the February coup.

The 24-year-old was taken away after eight trucks carrying police and soldiers arrived at his mother’s home in Yangon, according to local media reports. He had been in poor health at the time.

The military has been publishing the names and photographs of popular figures in daily wanted lists on TV and in the state-run newspaper. More than 100 are being sought by the military, and many have gone into hiding. On Wednesday, the popular beauty blogger Win Min Than was reportedly taken by security forces who arrived at a hotel where she had been staying with her mother, according to the Irrawaddy news site.

Paing Takhon, who had participated in anti-coup protests, faces charges under section 505a of the penal code, which criminalises comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news” and can lead to up to three years in prison. His social media profiles have been taken down, though it is not clear who removed them.

According to the advocacy group, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Burma, 2,750 people – from politicians to doctors, actors and social media influencers – are in detention. Most are held in unknown locations.

On Thursday, Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner and former Timor-Leste president, urged the UN security council to ignore China and Russia and make a resolute statement on the military coup that included arms embargos and sanctions, even if it was vetoed.

Ramos Horta said it was better for China and Russia to “be exposed” than for the council to have unanimous support on an “empty and useless press release”.

The leading human rights figure made the comments during a conference of hundreds of south-east Asian civil society groups to decide a regional response to the crisis.

Dr Dino Patti Djalal, chair of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, and co-organiser of the meeting dismissed claims that non government groups and civil society in south east Asia had little power to take action. “We have a voice, we are the voice of the conscience of the people, of the region. That’s a powerful thing. Let’s begin with that.”

On Thursday, protesters began what they called a “marching shoe strike”, placing flowers in pairs of shoes at protest locations, or in their homes. Organisers said the symbolic protest would honour the more than 580 people killed by the military, writing: “for every step, a flower blooms”.

Protesters, who have faced brutal violence by the security forces, have found new ways to show their defiance to the junta. On Monday, Easter eggs were decorated with anti-coup slogans, part of an “Easter egg strike”, while on Tuesday, the streets of Yangon were splashed with red paint in a “Blood strike” to highlight the killing of peaceful protesters.

Protesters have also made creative use of social media, using it to share footage of abuses by the military, as well as anti-coup art work and memes. Many have joined in solidarity with other pro-democracy movements in the region, adopting the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag, which was first used by young people in Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong to voice opposition to authoritarianism. According to Twitter, which has now created an accompanying milk tea emoji, the hashtag has been featured in more than 11m tweets in the past year, with its use surging in February when the coup first occurred.

🧵Today we are launching an emoji for the #MilkTeaAlliance, an online solidarity alliance first started in April 2020 as a Twitter meme which has grown into a global pro-democracy movement led by activists and concerned citizens in 🇭🇰🇹🇭🇹🇼🇲🇲 and around the world.

— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) April 8, 2021

The military has clamped down on such online activity, cutting mobile data for more than three weeks, and recently restricting broadband wireless internet services. Fixed-line internet still works, but even this is subject to shutdowns at night, when the military and police carry out house raids to round up protesters and critics.


Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent, and Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

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