Supporters of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for tougher international action against the new junta on Friday after Washington announced a first round of sanctions following six days of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Security forces carried out another series of arrests overnight, with those detained including at least one doctor who had taken part in an escalating civil disobedience campaign. In some places, people rallied to prevent those arrested being taken away.
Social media giant Facebook said it would cut the visibility of content run by Myanmar’s military, saying they have “continued to spread misinformation” after seizing power. Facebook will also suspended the ability for Myanmar government agencies to send it content-removal requests.
As Washington announced a first round of sanctions, European Union lawmakers called for action from their countries and Britain said it was considering measures to punish the Feb. 1 coup that ousted Suu Kyi’s government.
Supporters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) welcomed the U.S. sanctions but said tougher action was needed to push the military out of power and force it to recognize the NLD’s landslide victory in November elections.
“We are hoping for more actions than this as we are suffering every day and night of the military coup here in Myanmar, ” Moe Thal, 29, said. “We want to finish this ASAP. We may need more punishment and action against Myanmar’s acting president and generals.”
The coup and the detention of Suu Kyi along with more than 260 others have prompted the biggest demonstrations since a 2007 “Saffron Revolution” that ultimately became a step towards now-halted democratic change.
The junta remitted the sentences of more than 23,000 prisoners on Friday, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline” and would “please the public.”
Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called on civil servants to return to work on Thursday and urged people to stop mass gatherings to avoid spreading the coronavirus — addressing the protests for the first time.
Among protests across the country on Thursday, hundreds of workers lined a road in the capital Naypyitaw, chanting anti-junta slogans and carrying placards supporting Suu Kyi. Thousands also demonstrated in the main city of Yangon.
Hundreds of protesters also demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy, accusing Beijing of supporting the military junta despite Chinese denials.
The military launched the coup after what it said was widespread fraud in the Nov. 8 election. The electoral commission has said there is no evidence of fraud.
Suu Kyi, who was swept to power following a historic election victory in 2015, faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios.
The U.S. sanctions target 10 current and former military officials deemed responsible for the coup, including Min Aung Hlaing. It also blacklisted three gem and jade companies it said were owned or controlled by the military.
The sanctions prevent the named individuals from doing business in the United States, though the military leadership is not known to have major U.S. interests. Washington is also taking steps to prevent the generals from having access to $1 billion in Myanmar government funds held in the United States.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States was “prepared to take additional action should Burma’s military not change course.”
Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals are already under U.S. sanctions over abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
Derek Mitchell, former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar and president of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute on the U.S. sanctions on Myanmar, said sanctions on military holdings companies were a “de facto blanket sanction” on Myanmar because the firms were so deeply embedded in the economy.
But he said U.S. sanctions alone would have little impact on Myanmar’s generals without “tough messages” from U.S. partners such as Japan, Singapore and India.
“Min Aung Hlaing had already been sanctioned, so … I don’t think he is concerned about the United States right now,” he said.
The U.N. Human Rights Council is due to discuss Myanmar at a special session on Friday.
The protests have revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule, punctuated by bloody crackdowns, until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.
Suu Kyi, 75, won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning for democracy and remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Rohingya.
She spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under previous juntas. Her lawyer says he has not been allowed to see her.
The ruling generals have promised to stick to the 2008 constitution and hand over power after elections, but on Friday the junta said it would “work for the emergence of a constitution that is in alignment and harmony with the Democratic Federal Union”.
No date has yet been set for elections.
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