Myanmar protesters hold ‘silent strike’ against military junta

City streets emptied during nationwide demonstration after massacre of villagers by soldiers

The streets in towns and cities across Myanmar were deserted on Friday as the public held a “silent strike” to protest against the military government, days after a massacre of villagers provoked international condemnation.

Reports of the killing of 11 villagers, including children, in Sagaing region on Tuesday, were described by the US as “credible and sickening”. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned of an “alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses in Myanmar”.

The military rounded up villagers, shooting them and setting them on fire, according to reports by independent local media. A video and photograph that appears to show the burned corpses in Don Taw village have been shared on social media.

The OHCHR called for a “firm, unified” international response. It also referred to a recent military attack on a small group of peaceful, unarmed protesters who had gathered in Yangon on 5 December. A military vehicle rammed into the group and opened fire, killing as many as five people, according to local media reports.

“These attacks are heinous, completely unacceptable, and disregard common values of humanity. They are also far from isolated,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the OHCHR.

In state-controlled media, the military responded to international criticism by accusing UN officials and others of interfering in Myanmar’s domestic affairs and relying on “distorted news”. It denied reports of the massacre in Don Taw and instead accused “nation-destroying media” of publishing false reports.

On Friday, the “silent strike” was observed in many areas of Myanmar, with businesses shut between 10am and 4pm to signal defiance against the junta. In Yangon, normally congested roads were deserted, and lines of shops and businesses shuttered. A prominent protest leader, Min Han Htet, posted images of empty streets on social media with the message: “We are one organism”.

The prominent activist Thet Swe Win said on social media that, in some towns, soldiers had confiscated the property of businesses that had closed, and that business owners had been forced to show up and be arrested.

Friday’s protest was reportedly observed across Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay, and in towns across Sagaing region, Bago region, Ayeyarwaddy region, Shan state and Magwe region.

Mass protests that spread across Myanmar in the aftermath of the coup were crushed with deadly violence by the military. However, opposition remains widespread and people continue to find new, peaceful ways to defy the junta. An armed resistance consisting of people’s defence forces has also emerged.

The military has killed at least 1,323 people since it seized power on 1 February, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group that monitors deaths and arrests. A further 7,881 are currently detained.


A reporter in Yangon and Rebecca Ratcliffe

The GuardianTramp

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