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Myanmar security forces raid media HQ as opposition crackdown spreads

Guardian reporter in Yangon and Michael Safi
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

Myanmar security forces have raided the Yangon offices of a local media outlet as the ruling junta widens its efforts to suppress opposition to the coup it carried out more than a month ago.

Soldiers and police on Monday evening raided the headquarters of Myanmar Now, a news outlet that regularly scrutinises the Tatmadaw, or military, seizing computers, part of the newsroom’s data server and other equipment, a representative of the outlet said.

The offices were evacuated as a precautionary measure on 28 January as talk of a possible coup intensified and were empty at the time, they said.

It is first time officials of a media outlet have been targeted since the 1 February coup, and followed the storming of several hospitals in Yangon on Sunday evening as the junta seeks to suppress a civil disobedience movement that has paralysed the country.

An alliance of influential workers’ unions in Myanmar called for an extended nationwide strike starting on Monday, with the intention of causing the “full, extended shutdown” of the country’s economy in an attempt to halt the military coup.

Only a few small tea shops were open in Yangon, witnesses said. Large shopping centres were closed and factories were idle.

A Myanmar Now reporter, Kay Zon Nway, was arrested in Yangon a fortnight ago while livestreaming a protest, one of several journalists including an Associated Press reporter who have been arrested while covering the huge protests across the country.

“We are now at a point where continuing to do our jobs means risking being jailed or killed,” Swe Win, Myanmar Now’s editor-in-chief, said in a piece published in the outlet after the raid. “What is certain is that we will not stop covering the enormous crimes the regime has been committing throughout the country.”

Two people were killed when police fired on protesters in the northern town of Myitkyina on Monday, according to witnesses, the latest of what monitors say is more than 50 deaths linked to the uprising. Several people were injured, they said.

The military detained opposition politicians and election officials in the aftermath of the coup. But as protests have spread, it has widened the focus of its raids to activist leaders and wider civic institutions.

Tensions were running high in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, on Sunday night, where gunshots from heavy weapons could be heard in several areas after the 8pm curfew. The sounds of what apparently were stun grenades could also be heard on videos posted on social media.

Some of the shooting was heard near hospitals, where reports said local residents sought to block the entry of police and soldiers.

Security forces have previously targeted medical personnel and facilities, attacking ambulances and their crews. There are fears the police presence in hospitals would allow authorities to arrest wounded people presumed to be protesters.

Related: Myanmar military hires PR agent to explain 'real situation' to west

The international group Physicians for Human Rights condemned the occupation of hospitals, saying in a statement it was “appalled by this latest wave of violence by the Myanmar military, including the invasion and occupation of public hospitals and wanton excessive force against civilians”.

“If it was not obvious before, it is absolutely clear now: the Myanmar military will not stop violating the rights of the people of Myanmar until the international community acts decisively to prevent and account for these outrageous acts,” it said.

A protester looks on from behind shields during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Sunday.
A protester looks on from behind shields during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Sunday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The group said the occupation of hospitals by force was a violation of international law that “only serves to further undermine a healthcare system already embattled by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the military’s recent coup d’état”.

It said one witness account reported armed security forces entering and seeking to occupy West Yangon general hospital by force. It said it also had reports of at least five other hospitals in Yangon being occupied by the military, and similar reports from Mandalay, Monywa, and Taunggyi.

Andrew Tillett-Saks, the Myanmar country programme director for the Solidarity Center, a US-based worker rights organisation, said the strike “increases the likelihood that many more from the private sector will answer the call in the days and weeks that follow … This is a strategy that could actually plausibly really pressure the military.”

Tens of thousands of people came out in Myanmar on Sunday in one of the biggest days of protest against the coup, despite overnight raids by security forces in Yangon, on campaign leaders and opposition activists.

In a single Yangon neighbourhood, Shwepyitha, at least 100 students were reported to have been arrested, and many protesters were also said to have been detained in other cities, especially at universities.

Police fired teargas and stun grenades in Lashio town in the country’s northern Shan region, according to live video posted on Facebook. A witness said police opened fire to break up a protest in the historic temple town of Bagan, but it was not clear if they were using rubber bullets or live ammunition.

Khin Maung Latt, an official and local campaign manager from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, died in police custody on Sunday.

Ba Myo Thein, a deposed lawmaker, said reports of bruising to Khin Maung Latt’s head and body raised suspicions that he had been “tortured severely”. Police in the Pabedan district of Yangon, where Khin Maung Latt was arrested on Saturday night, declined to comment.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report