Hundreds Arrested As Myanmar Security Forces Launch Nationwide Crackdown on Regime Protests

By The Irrawaddy 28 February 2021

YANGON—Hundreds of people, including journalists, were arrested and dozens are believed to have been injured in Myanmar on Saturday as security forces indiscriminately attacked everyone in their path during a continuing crackdown on anti-military regime protesters across the country.

State-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) announced in the evening that a total of 479 “protesters against the state” across the country have been detained. That is the highest number of single day arrests since the beginning of the week-long protest.

Protests against the regime have erupted in Myanmar for three weeks now following a military takeover early this month. Since then, people have taken to the streets to denounce the military dictatorship. They have also demanded the release of their democratically elected leaders, the President U Win Myint, the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained by the regime. The protests saw bloodshed in other parts of the country, including the capital Naypyitaw and Mandalay, where five people, including a 16-year-old boy, were shot dead by riot police and soldiers last week.

Anti-military regime protesters in Yangon on Feb 27. (The Irrawaddy)

On Saturday, crackdowns on the protesters were more violent and widespread than in previous days. Bloody raids were reported from Kachin State in the country’s north to Myeik in Myanmar’s Deep South.

In Monywa, the largest city of Sagaing Region in the country’s northwest, the crackdown came early around 9 a.m. when people were gathering in a Buddhist monastery downtown for the day’s protest. The situation turned violent when a police column arrived to disperse the protesters and was besieged by townsfolk. Residents said the security forces detonated stun grenades, fired guns and raided the monastery, injuring some in the crowd, including a woman who was seriously wounded.

Videos taken by local people showed riot police, soldiers and some plainclothes police used excessive force as they rained down their batons on an unarmed civilian before taking him away. An editor of the local publication “Monywa Gazette” received the same treatment before he was kicked into a police van.

Riot police, soldiers and plainclothes police attack civilians in Monywa on Feb 27. (Supplied)

A government schoolteacher told The Irrawaddy that out of more than 150 people, including herself, trapped in the monastery, about 100 student and civilian protesters were thrown into three police vans around 2 p.m. She and 52 others were released on bail after the police learned that they were schoolteachers.

“Our phones were confiscated until our release. They said, ‘No sign, no release.’ So, we had to sign a paper that says we won’t join the protest again,” she said.

MRTV said 173 have been arrested in Monywa.

Riot police in Yangon turned more aggressive on Saturday than on Friday, with 166 people reportedly arrested. In one of the city’s protest flashpoints, Hledan, retreating protesters red-eyed from teargas were chased by baton-brandishing security forces into the streets.

Riot police try to arrest a man in Yangon amid their crackdown on anti-regime protesters on Feb 27. (The Irrawaddy)

Police did not confine themselves to targeting protesters. They indiscriminately intimidated and arrested bystanders in their way. Victims included a pregnant woman and volunteer medics, trishaw drivers and others hiding in makeshift clinics for protesters.

The normally busy Bagaya Road in Yangon’s San Chaung Township looked more like a war zone on Saturday afternoon with improvised barricades here and there while gunfire and the apparent detonation of stun grenades reverberated and smoke hung around the neighborhood.

Undeterred by repeated police assaults, protesters — barely equipped with hard hats and gas masks — reorganized themselves throughout the day for more rallies behind makeshift barricades largely made up of huge garbage bins and carts.

Some creatively deterred security forces by gluing large posters of coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on the road, causing a significant delay to charging riot police and soldiers who didn’t dare step on the image of their leader.

Anti-regime protesters in Yangon on Feb 27. (The Irrawaddy)

In Myanmar’s second largest city Mandalay, the hostility of the security forces was as evident as previous day. They made random slingshot attacks in Maha Aung Myay Township after they found no protesters in the neighborhood. The primitive attacks wounded one monastery staff member in the head, earning him a few stitches at a hospital. MRTV said a total of nine people were arrested there.

Today’s conduct by security forces focused more on arresting journalists covering the civil disobedience movement protests across the country.

As of Saturday evening, more than 10 local journalists from news outlets like 7 Day News, Myanmar Now, Monywa Gazette, the Hakha Times and The Associated Press were detained by security forces in Yangon, Monywa, Chin State and other areas.

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