Attempts by the Myanmar military to stop the disagreement are turning to the virtual world with internet blockades and arrest warrants for network critics, as large rallies become rare in the face of relentless repression by security forces.
An activist group of the Association for Aid to Political Prisoners (AAPP) said on Saturday that security forces had killed 550 people, including 46 children, since the army overthrew the elected government on February 1st led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Two people were killed on Friday.
Despite the repression, opponents of the coup march daily in cities and towns across the country, often holding what they call “guerrilla rallies” – small, quick demonstrations of defiance before security forces can respond.
People also gather at night for candlelight vigils, but the huge gatherings that attracted tens of thousands in the early days of defiance mostly stopped in big cities.
Authorities, who have already shut down mobile data in an attempt to quell opposition, have ordered Internet providers to reduce wireless broadband access as of Friday, denying access to most customers.
‘Revolution must prevail’
Authorities have also issued arrest warrants for 18 celebrities from the entertainment business, including influential people on social media and two journalists under the law against material intended for members of the armed forces to rebel or neglect their duty, state media reported late Friday.
They are all known to oppose military rule, and one, actress Paing Phyoe Thu, said she would not be afraid. “Whether the warrant is issued or not, as long as I live, I will oppose a military dictatorship that mistreats and kills people. The revolution must prevail, ”she said on Facebook.
Paing Phyoe Thu regularly attended rallies in the capital Yangon in the weeks following the coup. Authorities have been seeking the same law for her husband, film director Na Gyi, since February.
Her whereabouts were not immediately known and it was not clear how she could post her message. Myanmar social media users don’t seem to be connected early on Saturday.
The prosecution may have a prison sentence of three years.
State house MRTV posted arrest warrants with screenshots and links to each of their Facebook profiles.
Although the military has banned social media platforms like Facebook, the junta has continued to use social media to track critics and promote its message. MRTV maintains a YouTube channel and shares links to its shows on Twitter, both of which are officially banned.
The United States has condemned the Internet shutdown. “Hopefully this won’t silence people’s voices,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said. Porter said the shutdown will also have consequences for people who use the internet to benefit from online health programs.
Security forces have arrested a number of suspected opponents of the coup.
New portal Myanmar Now reported on Friday that five women who spoke to a CNN guest news team were taken to the streets of Yangon by security guards this week.
Separately, one person was shot and wounded in an attack on another city of Mandalay on Friday night, the Mizzima news service reported.
Air strikes in the north and east
The coup has also revived old wars with ethnic minority forces seeking autonomy in the north and east. Myanmar’s oldest rebel group, Karen National Union (KNU), has seen the first military air strikes on its forces in more than 20 years since announcing support for the pro-democracy movement.
The KNU said more than 12,000 villagers had fled their homes due to airstrikes and called for an international embargo on arms sales to the military. “Their inhumane actions against unarmed civilians have resulted in the deaths of many people, including children and students,” the group said in a statement.
The media reported that in recent days, about 20 people have been killed in airstrikes on KNU territory, including nearly a dozen in a gold mine run by the group.
The KNU signed a truce with the government in 2012 to end its 60-year rebellion.
Fighting also erupted in the north between the army and ethnic rebels from Kacin.
Due to the turmoil, several thousand refugees fled to Thailand and India.