On February 1, the folks of Myanmar woke as much as their worst nightmare: the return of army rule after almost a decade of relative freedom. The predawn arrest of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint signalled the tip of a quick period of elected authorities and set the stage for the large demonstrations and brutal crackdowns that had been to observe.
However the nation’s civilian leaders weren’t the one ones detained that day. Many others had been additionally taken into custody, not as a result of they introduced any fast risk to the coup makers, however as a result of they’d displeased them previously.
Senior Common Min Aung Hlaing, who orchestrated the army’s return to direct management over the state, moved swiftly to punish perceived enemies, locking them up even earlier than they may utter a phrase of protest. Apart from activists and politicians, his targets included celebrities, monks and different public figures who dared to query the military’s proper to rule.
Some had already been marked for revenge earlier than the coup. Charged with offenses associated to their criticism of the army or its bigoted henchmen, they had been among the many first to be silenced when the time got here to begin settling scores.
Others, nevertheless, had been arrested with out even a pretence of authorized justification. As with the allegations of voter fraud that served because the pretext for the army takeover, no critical proof of wrongdoing was ever introduced in opposition to them.
In each case, all that mattered was the alleged offenders’ perspective in the direction of the category of males who contemplate themselves Myanmar’s pure rulers.
The profiles that observe present a glimpse into the pondering of the generals and what they concern most—the prospect of shedding energy to those that refuse to concern them.
Mya Aye, a veteran activist who performed a number one position within the 1988 pro-democracy rebellion, was taken away from his house on the morning of the coup and held incommunicado for the following two months. It was not till April 1 that his household discovered that he was being held in Yangon’s infamous Insein Jail.
Their aid at lastly discovering out the place he was quickly turned to dismay, nevertheless, once they found that Mya Aye had been charged with hate speech underneath part 505c of the Penal Code, which offers with acts prone to incite a prison offence in opposition to any group or particular person based mostly on their ethnic or spiritual background.
What made this so bewildering was the truth that, as a outstanding Muslim political chief, Mya Aye had lengthy been concerned in interfaith efforts to finish tensions between the nation’s varied spiritual communities.
The fees, which carry a attainable sentence of two years in jail, stem from an e-mail he despatched from his cell phone in November 2014. On the time, he was working with the ethnic affairs division of the 88 Era Peace and Open Society, led by former pupil chief Min Ko Naing.
The e-mail, which was associated to Myanmar’s peace course of, touched on the topics of Burman ethno-nationalism and the necessity for cooperation among the many nation’s ethnic teams as a way to obtain true federalism.
“The one purpose he despatched that e-mail was for the nation’s sake. No conflicts between ethnicities, races or nations resulted from that e-mail despatched in 2014,” mentioned his lawyer, Thet Naung.
Mya Aye had been on the military’s radar since 1988, when he was a instructor who based his personal celebration to coordinate the efforts of youthful leaders.
“We had been pupil leaders and he was the celebration chair. We normally held our conferences at his celebration’s workplace, which was basically a insurgent’s hideout,” recalled former political prisoner Tun Kyi.
The one purpose he despatched that e-mail was for the nation’s sake. No conflicts between ethnicities, races or nations resulted from that e-mail despatched in 2014 – Mya Aye’s lawyer
Mya Aye was imprisoned twice, in 1989 and 2007, and spent a complete of 12 years behind bars. Throughout his years of freedom, he remained politically lively and sometimes courted the army’s ire.
When the generals hinted earlier than the coup that they may seize energy once more, Mya Aye described their phrases as an act of intimidation. He additionally rightly foretold the disastrous penalties of such a transfer.
“A coup could be actually unhealthy for the nation. We’ll be seemed down upon by the worldwide group. It’s a shedding battle for everybody, together with the army itself, the folks, the successful celebration of the election, everybody, actually,” he mentioned.
For these acquainted with his profession of talking fact to energy, Mya Aye’s arrest got here as no shock.
“They know precisely who their enemies are,” Tun Kyi mentioned of the nation’s dictators. “They regard each activist and politician who stands in opposition to them as their enemy. They usually have a really sturdy grudge in opposition to them.”
Thura Aung Ko
Thura Aung Ko’s journey from excessive workplace to a jail cell was an extended and unlikely one. However a full yr earlier than his arrest, it was clear that the previous military basic and authorities minister was a marked man.
In February 2020, after he steered that the one purpose the fugitive monk Wirathu remained at giant was as a result of the police reply to the military-controlled Ministry of Residence Affairs, and to not the civilian authorities, military spokesperson Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun referred to as on the then-ruling NLD administration to “take motion” in opposition to him for defamation.
But it surely was lengthy earlier than this episode that Aung Ko, a retired brigadier basic who as soon as served as deputy minister for spiritual affairs underneath the previous junta, started his fall from favour with the army’s senior leaders.
When Myanmar made a transition to quasi-civilian rule underneath retired basic Thein Sein in 2011, Aung Ko was one of many key holdovers from the army regime that held energy till then.
As a outstanding member of the military-backed USDP, he was elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw, or decrease home of parliament, in 2010 and appointed chair of a judicial and legislative assessment committee. On this capability, he advocated for the suspension of a clause within the structure that barred then opposition chief Aung San Suu Kyi from changing into president, signalling a break with the army’s entrenched place on the matter.
In August 2015, when Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the Union parliament, was eliminated as chair of the USDP by a faction that felt he had grown too near Suu Kyi, Aung Ko additionally discovered himself on chilly phrases with the celebration. The 2 former generals, who share the “thura” title signifying braveness in battle, had been seen as allies who threatened to weaken the military’s maintain over Myanmar politics.
When the NLD got here to energy after a landslide win within the 2015 election, Aung Ko was named minister of faith and tradition regardless of shedding his seat in parliament. As head of the ministry, he was instrumental in shutting down the ultranationalist group Ma Ba Tha, led by firebrand monk Wirathu, in July 2017.
Though Wirathu remained lively after this, he was finally prosecuted for sedition. After greater than a yr on the run, he turned himself in to the police simply days earlier than the 2020 election. (Imprisoned underneath the NLD authorities, he was pardoned and released by the junta earlier this month.)
On March 5, greater than a month after his arrest on the day of the coup, Aung Ko was charged with corruption for allegedly awarding spiritual titles to people in change for bribes.
Presently being held in Insein Jail, the 74-year-old ex-general who made the error of displeasing higher-ranked hardliners now faces a sentence of 15 years behind bars.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi
Documentary filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is well-acquainted with the generals’ vindictiveness. Lower than a yr earlier than his newest arrest, he was launched from jail after serving a one-year sentence for writing Fb posts crucial of the military-drafted 2008 structure and the military’s position in politics.
Accused of constructing derogatory remarks that harmed the dignity of the army, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was charged in April 2019 with incitement underneath part 505a of the Penal Code. He was freed in February 2020 after receiving routine sentence reductions, however was repeatedly denied bail throughout his incarceration, regardless of affected by liver most cancers.
An extended-time critic of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Growth Celebration (USDP) and Ma Ba Tha, the Buddhist nationalist group that actively promoted anti-Muslim sentiment, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was “a thorn within the soles of the toes of the fascist generals,” as one colleague put it.
A part of the rationale for that is that he had lengthy been a supporter of the Nationwide League for Democracy (NLD) and its chief, Aung San Suu Kyi. A method he demonstrated this was by auctioning off a poem written by Suu Kyi for 240m kyat (almost $145,000) and donating the proceeds to her celebration.
Regardless of being a well-respected filmmaker with a global repute, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was unable to display screen any of his early work in Myanmar as a result of it was banned by the junta that dominated the nation till 2011.
a thorn within the soles of the toes of the fascist generals
His 2010 documentary “The Floating Tomatoes”—in regards to the environmental degradation of Inle Lake in Shan State—and his first movie, “Human Zoo,” which examines the exploitation of the so-called “long-neck” Padaung folks in Thailand, had been well-received abroad, however couldn’t be seen at house as a result of regime’s censorship.
When Myanmar started a partial opening a decade in the past, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi began organizing occasions to deliver his personal work and that of others to a Myanmar viewers. For the primary, the Artwork of Freedom Movie Pageant, he collaborated with Zarganar, a comic and fellow director who was often known as a vocal opponent of army rule.
This was adopted by the Human Rights Human Dignity Worldwide Movie Pageant and the founding of the Human Dignity Institute, which produces documentaries and quick movies on human rights.
his beliefs as an artist and the eagerness and inspiration he has fostered in younger filmmakers can’t be contained and won’t be silenced – Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s colleague
In response to his colleague, who requested to stay nameless, many younger filmmakers owe their begin to Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi. By way of them and thru his personal movies, he continues to affect public discourse in Myanmar, whilst he stays a prisoner of the junta.
“The fascist regime might have succeeded [in detaining] Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, however his beliefs as an artist and the eagerness and inspiration he has fostered in younger filmmakers can’t be contained and won’t be silenced,” mentioned the colleague.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, 59, and his former collaborator Zarganar, 60, are each at the moment being held in Insein Jail, together with many others deemed a risk to the regime.
Htin Lin Oo
As he awaited his arrest on the morning of February 1, writer and former NLD data officer Htin Lin Oo recorded a nine-minute reside broadcast on social media to denounce the army’s actions. It doesn’t matter what, he mentioned, he would all the time oppose the dictatorship.
“I’m not opposing the military. I’m opposing the dictators who staged the coup. All of us civilians must stand up and revolt in opposition to the dictatorship,” he mentioned in his remaining public assertion earlier than being taken away.
Htin Lin Oo accused the generals of killing democracy in its infancy. Each time they staged a coup, he mentioned, they threw the nation many years behind the remainder of the world, as they did once they seized energy in 1962 and 1988.
Not surprisingly, these remarks didn’t sit nicely with Myanmar’s newly self-appointed leaders. After arresting him with out expenses, they hastened to make use of his on-line feedback to cost him with incitement and spreading false information on social media.
As was the case with many others arrested that day, Htin Lin Oo had a historical past of displeasing the army. In a speech delivered in Magway Area’s Chaung Oo Township in October 2014, he accused the military of utilizing faith to create battle and preserve management.
A ten-minute excerpt from his two-hour speech was circulated broadly on-line and portrayed as an assault on Buddhism, the faith of the bulk in Myanmar. It proved so controversial that even his personal celebration distanced itself from his remarks.
On the time, the military-backed USDP was in energy and the Patriotic Affiliation of Myanmar (the Buddhist nationalist group higher recognized by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha) was on the peak of its affect. It got here as no shock, then, when Htin Lin Oo was sentenced to 2 years with onerous labour for allegedly violating sections 295a and 298 of the Penal Code, which prohibit “deliberate and malicious acts supposed to outrage spiritual emotions” and talking “with deliberate intent to wound spiritual emotions”.
We’re not afraid of something as a result of we haven’t carried out something mistaken – Htin Lin Oo’s spouse
After his launch, Htin Lin Oo resumed his efforts to push the army out of politics, organizing public discussions on amending the military-drafted structure and founding a weekly journal, D Lann, that raised associated points.
His spouse, Noticed Sandar, mentioned that the regime arrested Htin Lin Oo as a result of it fears anybody who can lead the general public.
“It’s not truthful, however we now have the braveness to face this. We’re not afraid of something as a result of we haven’t carried out something mistaken,” she mentioned, including that her solely actual fear is that her husband will fall sufferer to Covid-19 whereas behind bars.
“What’s necessary is to remain wholesome, particularly when the pandemic is getting worse contained in the prisons. That’s the one factor I’m nervous about,” she advised Myanmar Now.
Min Thway Thit
If he hadn’t been arrested on the day of the coup, Min Thway Thit would doubtless have been on the forefront of the anti-dictatorship motion. The 38-year-old activist and former political prisoner has lengthy performed a number one position in resisting army oppression.
He first got here to prominence in 2014 throughout pupil protests in opposition to a brand new nationwide training legislation launched by the quasi-civilian administration of then President Thein Sein. Throughout a violent crackdown on protests in Letpadan, Bago Area, in March 2015, he was one among greater than 100 folks arrested and imprisoned. The fees in opposition to him had been finally dropped, nevertheless, when the NLD assumed energy a yr later.
Extra just lately, the previous affiliate secretary of the All Burma Federation of Scholar Unions (ABFSU) and founding father of the Oway Library and Training Charity (Thanlyin) led a volunteer group established in Yangon’s Thanlyin Township to answer the Covid-19 pandemic.
Min Thway Thit was detained for a full month earlier than the regime launched any details about him to his household. His spouse, Yadanar Su Po Khaing, advised VOA’s Burmese-language service in an interview that she wasn’t capable of ship him any medication or different requirements till early March, when she first discovered that he was being held in Insein Jail.
He now faces expenses of violating vehicle-licensing rules underneath Part 95 of the Automobile Security and Automobile Administration Act, which carries a most sentence of three years in jail. Nevertheless, in keeping with his spouse, he has refused to participate within the proceedings in opposition to him as a result of he has no confidence within the impartiality of the junta’s judiciary.
Ministers, monks and satirists
The most typical crime dedicated by these arrested on February 1 was supporting the NLD, the celebration that received two successive landslide victories in opposition to the army’s proxy celebration, the USDP. Anybody tied to the NLD, both as a number one member or as an outspoken supporter, was truthful recreation for a regime decided to silence the army’s most potent rival for energy.
Surprisingly, maybe, solely a handful of NLD-appointed ministers have come underneath sustained strain. Aside from State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, the one senior figures from the Union authorities nonetheless in custody are Soe Win, the ousted minister of planning and finance, his vice minister Set Aung, and his predecessor Kyaw Win.
On the regional and municipal ranges of presidency, nevertheless, quite a few different senior officers have additionally been focused by the junta. In early July, Mandalay’s chief minister, Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, and the area’s minister for electrical energy, vitality and development, Zarni Aung, were charged with corruption, greater than 5 months after their arrest.
Comparable expenses, made in reference to alleged unlawful offers involving Aung San Suu Kyi, have additionally been laid in opposition to Naypyitaw’s former mayor, Dr. Myo Aung, and deputy mayor, Ye Min Oo, in addition to Min Thu, a member of the town’s improvement committee.
Of the monks who had been arrested on February 1, Ven. Pyinya Thiha, higher referred to as Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw, was maybe essentially the most outspoken backer of the NLD. In 2011, lengthy earlier than the celebration got here to energy, he was banned from giving public sermons after he commemorated the twentieth anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
The abbot of Mandalay’s Myawaddy Mingyi monastery, Ven. Ariyawuntha Biwunsa (often known as Myawaddy Sayadaw), had additionally earned the army’s ire previously. In late 2019, he was sued for defamation after he accused the armed forces of supporting ultranationalist monks. He was out on bail when he was arrested on the day of the coup.
In an interview with Myanmar Now following his launch from Mandalay’s Obo Jail final month, he dismissed the junta’s claims that the NLD was unhealthy for Myanmar’s Buddhist monks and repeated his cost that the army was making an attempt to “exploit the folks within the identify of faith.”
Ven. Thawbita, one of many leaders of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, was taken away from his monastery in Patheingyi, east of Mandalay, in handcuffs on the morning of February 1. Two days later, he was sentenced to 2 years in jail after being discovered responsible underneath Part 66d of Myanmar’s draconian Telecommunications Legislation for a web based remark he wrote greater than two years earlier facetiously comparing Min Aung Hlaing to a cow.
As if to show their utter humourlessness, the generals additionally went after a pair of outstanding satirists on the day they seized energy. One was Maung Thar Cho, who wrote satirical articles for the 7Day every day newspaper underneath the pseudonym of Jack (Kunchan Kone). These items proved immensely widespread and earned him a following amongst NLD supporters, who invited him to literary talks across the nation.
They had been kidnapped and now they’re political hostages. The junta chief will use them to ease worldwide strain
The opposite was Noticed Phoe Khwar, an ethnic Kayin reggae musician who carried out at NLD marketing campaign occasions throughout final yr’s election. Well-known for his peace concert events, he’s additionally well-known for his use of wit to skewer the army.
“The Son of Daw Sein Aye,” one among his hottest songs, performs on the identify of the Defence Providers Academy (DSA), the elite establishment that produced most of Myanmar’s high army leaders. Ostensibly about an unruly man who makes bother for his neighbours, it clearly refers back to the DSA’s proudest alumni. For the reason that coup, it has turn into a well-liked protest song.
No matter causes got for his or her arrest, most of these detained on February 1 are prone to stay within the junta’s custody till it turns into politically expedient to launch them.
Locked up for offending the generals, they’re now simply pawns of their recreation, in keeping with former political prisoner Tun Kyi.
“They had been kidnapped and now they’re political hostages. The junta chief will use them to ease worldwide strain. They could be launched, however they received’t be free, as a result of they could possibly be arrested once more at any time. That’s simply the way it was carried out underneath earlier regimes, too,” he defined.