Thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon on Saturday to denounce this week’s coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in the first such demonstration since the generals seized power.
“Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win,” protesters chanted, calling for the military to free Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi and other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) who have been detained since the coup on Monday.
“Against military dictatorship” read the banner at the front of the march. Many protesters dressed in the NLD’s red colour and some carried red flags.
Myanmar’s junta has tried to silence dissent by temporarily blocking Facebook and extended the social media crackdown to Twitter and Instagram on Saturday in the face of the growing protest movement.
Authorities ordered internet providers to deny access to Twitter and Instagram “until further notice”, said Norwegian mobile phone company Telenor Asa .
Demand for VPNs has soared in Myanmar, allowing some people to evade the ban, but users reported more general disruption to mobile data services, which most people in the country of 53 million rely on for news and communications.
“We lost freedom, justice and urgently need democracy,” wrote one Twitter user. “Please hear the voice of Myanmar.”
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power alleging fraud in a Nov. 8 election that the NLD won in a landslide. The electoral commission dismissed the army’s accusations.
The junta announced a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hand over power after new elections, without giving a timeframe.
The takeover drew international condemnation with a United Nations Security Council call for the release of all detainees and targeted sanctions under consideration by Washington.
Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen in public since the coup. She spent some 15 years under house arrest during a struggle against previous juntas before the troubled democratic transition began in 2011.
The lawyer for Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint said they were being held in their homes and that he was unable to meet them because they were still being questioned. Suu Kyi faces charges of importing six walkie-talkies illegally while Win Myint is accused of flouting coronavirus restrictions.
“Of course, we want unconditional release as they have not broken the law,” said Khin Maung Zaw, the veteran lawyer who is representing both of them.
Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Suu Kyi, said in message to Reuters on Saturday he was being detained.
“I guess you will soon hear of it, but I am being detained,” he said. “Being charged with something, but not sure what. I am fine and strong, and not guilty of anything,” he said, with a smile emoji.
It was not subsequently possible to contact him.
Saturday’s protest is the first sign of street unrest in a country with a history of bloody crackdowns on protesters. There were also anti-coup protests in Melbourne, Australia, and the Taiwanese capital Taipei on Saturday.
A civil disobedience movement has been building in Myanmar all week, with doctors and teachers among those refusing to work, and every night people bang pots and pans in a show of anger.
In addition to about 150 arrests in the wake of the coup reported by human rights groups, local media said around 30 people have been detained over the noise protests.