YANGON: Opponents of military rule in Myanmar marched, observed strikes and sought alternative ways to communicate after most users were cut off from the Internet on Friday (Apr 2), undaunted by the bloody suppression of protests during the past two months.
Hundreds of people have been killed demonstrating since the Feb 1 coup, and many people have been using social media to publicise the security forces’ excesses and to organise against military rule.
The authorities, who have already shut down mobile data, ordered Internet providers from Friday to cut wireless broadband, depriving most customers of access.
In response, anti-coup groups have shared radio frequencies, mobile apps such as maps that work without a data connection, and tips for using SMS messages as an alternative to data services to communicate.
“In the following days, there are street protests. Do as many guerrilla strikes as you can. Please join,” Khin Sadar, a protest leader, said on Facebook in anticipation of the Internet blackout, referring to quick protests in unexpected places that break up when the security forces appear.
“Let’s listen to the radio again. Let’s make phone calls to each other too.”
The military did not announce or explain its order to providers to cut wireless broadband. Internet was available only on fixed lines, rare in Myanmar where most homes and businesses connect through wireless networks.
Authorities have been struggling to stifle an opposition demanding the restoration of civilian rule and release of elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other figures.
Violent incidents are occurring regularly in different parts of the country between the security forces and people set against military rule.
In the town of Tamu on the Indian border, a policeman who supported the democracy movement was killed on Friday in a clash with security forces, the Monywa Gazette reported.
Separately, security forces opened fire at a rally near the central city of Mandalay, wounding four people, two critically, according to three domestic media organisations.
In the commercial hub of Yangon, a Myanmar employee of South Korea’s Shinhan Bank died on Friday after being shot in the head while travelling in a minibus two days earlier, the bank said, adding it was discussing the situation with the government.
Adding to the chaos in the former British colony, hostilities between the armed forces and ethnic minority insurgents have broken out in at least two regions.
Across the country, demonstrators held “flower strikes”, leaving bouquets, some with messages of defiance, at places associated with activists killed by the security forces.
People held up roses while making three-finger salutes, a symbol of resistance. Entire benches were covered in flowers and anti-coup messages.
One arrangement of dandelions and red roses on a lakeside walkway read: “Myanmar is bleeding”.
CHARGED UNDER OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT
Despite the Internet shutdown, users were still able to upload pictures of marches, flower strikes and a funeral of a slain protester.
An image shared widely on social media showed an overhead view of hundreds of flickering candles on a dark road, forming the words: “We will never surrender.”
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and four allies have been charged with violating a colonial era official secrets act, her chief lawyer said on Thursday, the most serious charge filed against her. Violations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Another of her lawyers, Min Min Soe, attended Aung San Suu Kyi’s latest video conference hearing on Thursday and said she was unable to tell whether the ousted leader, the figurehead of a decades-long fight against military dictatorship, was aware of the situation in the country.
About 543 people have been killed in the uprising, according to the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group, which is tracking casualties and detentions. The military has repeatedly said those killed had instigated violence.
Protesters have been burning copies of the 2008 Constitution after remnants of Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration declared that it had repealed the military-drafted charter.
Western countries have condemned the coup and the violence and some have imposed limited sanctions.
Britain on Thursday blacklisted one of the military’s conglomerates, following similar measures from other Western countries. Fashion brand Next announced it had suspended orders from Myanmar’s factories.
While Southeast Asian countries have traditionally been reluctant to criticise or sanction their neighbour, there are signs of growing dismay with a country that has for decades raised international concerns over its domestic repression.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and most recently Thailand have called for an end to the violence.
Several Southeast Asian foreign ministers have been meeting separately this week with their counterpart from China, which is among the few countries able to influence Myanmar’s generals.
In an interview transcript made available late on Thursday, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he was “alarmed and appalled” at the violence.