Authorities in Myanmar’s Mandalay region on Wednesday detained nearly 20 people accused of participating in a “silent strike,” bringing the number of those arrested in connection with the nationwide anti-junta protest to more than 200 in recent days, according to sources.
Residents of Mandalay’s Mahar Aung Myae township told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Thursday that security forces blocked off streets for most of the previous day and arrested at least 19 people — including a Buddhist monk and several youth activist leaders.
Ashin Raza Dhama, the leader of the Mandalay Buddhist Monk Union, said junta forces searched Mahar Aung’s Sein Pan ward and detained “around 15 people.”
“In the evening, four leaders [who led] boycotts were taken,” he said of the youth activists, whose names were withheld due to concerns for their safety and that of their families.
“Today, I heard they are searching in Myaukpyin area the same way they did in Sein Pan,” he added.
Authorities also arrested a Buddhist monk from Mandalay’s Thingazar Monastery, alleging that he was involved in the protests.
Streets in Myanmar were largely empty on Feb. 1, as people across the country took part in the Silent Strike to protest the one-year anniversary of the military coup, despite a week of junta threats and arrests of organizers.
Public areas around the country were noticeably barren, except for occasional groups of young people holding flash protests. In the lead-up to the anniversary of the Feb. 1, 2021, coup, authorities had warned of tough punishments — including life in prison — for anyone found applauding, honking or otherwise expressing support for the strike.
The movement marked the third Silent Strike since the military seized power, the others coming in March in the immediate aftermath of the putsch and in December on International Human Rights Day. In the past year, security forces have arrested more than 9,000 civilians and killed 1,546 — mostly during nonviolent anti-junta protests, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Residents of Mandalay said the junta is arresting protest leaders in the region to tighten security ahead of the 75th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary of Union Day on Feb. 12. The holiday commemorates the 1947 signing of the Panglong Agreement by ethnic majority Burmans and the country’s minorities to form a union following Myanmar’s independence from Britain on Jan. 4 a year later.
Sources expressed concern for the safety of the four protest leaders who were arrested Wednesday, who they said are on the junta’s “wanted list.”
One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, said that arresting the youth leaders will not end the resistance against the military regime.
“The revolution will not be stopped. It may take some time to recoup, but it will be restarted. The protesters will come out again,” he said.
The source called on more people to participate in the movement against the junta, saying that the political situation in the country has worsened.
“Popular participation has declined. We no longer have safehouses, and it has become more challenging to organize,” he said.
“We hope nothing happen to [the leaders]. I feel bad because they are very important for us.”
Tayzar San, a protest leader in Mandalay, said the junta’s violent crackdown on dissent will be its downfall.
“People throughout the country are fully motivated and in the mood for revolution,” he said.
“The people’s participation in the Silent Strike during the anniversary of the coup is evidence of that. The people of Myanmar will push back when the military tries to push them down.”
Dozens arrested over silent strike
Prior to Wednesday, the junta said that authorities had arrested 193 people throughout the country between Jan. 27 and Feb. 8 for allegedly offering support for, or encouraging others to take part in, the strike by committing to close their shops on social media.
The announcement said that it will charge the alleged strike supporters under the Counter-Terrorism Act and the Electronic Communications Act, and that those found guilty of violating the laws are subject to having their property confiscated.
Family members of those arrested told RFA on Thursday that they were not talking about participation in the strike when they posted messages about closing shops, but just writing about how they intended to observe the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, which also fell on Feb. 1.
A woman who declined to be named said she hadn’t had contact with her husband since his arrest for allegedly closing his shop.
“We are ethnic Chinese. We announced on Facebook that we would close our shops on Feb. 1 according to New Year tradition,” she said. “Now my husband has been arrested, and I am in trouble taking care of three kids.”
A fortune teller in Yangon named Thar Htet Hsann was also among those detained in recent days.
His wife said he was arrested for allegedly participating in the strike but that he always takes the day off on Mondays.
“He closes his fortune teller shop every Monday. He used to call me when he is coming home, but he didn’t that evening,” she said. “Later, I saw something about his arrest on the news on TV. I have two children. They are still very young, and I don’t know what to do.”
‘Instilling fear’ through arrests
The spokesperson of a social media watchdog group in Myanmar said the junta works with popular pro-military influencers to monitor the activities of users.
“There are so many accounts of people named Kyaw Zwar, Han Nyein Oo or Thazin Oo on Telegram,” he said, referring to a popular social media platform.
“We found out that they are military supporters. We found that they are monitoring activities on these channels and taking actions by initiating these arrests.”
Attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the arrests related to the silent strike went unanswered Thursday.
A court attorney who works on human rights violation cases in Yangon told RFA that if a person runs their own private business and independently pays municipal taxes, the authorities cannot arrest them for closing their shop.
“The arrests are illegal and unlawful. They are using the law to oppress the people. I believe they are just using the laws to limit individual freedom,” the attorney said.
A Facebook user and youth activist in Yangon said the military council is trying to intimidate its opposition with the arrests.
“They are trying to instill fear among young people from using internet,” he said. “We will make sure they cannot govern us. We will continue the resistance online.”