Myanmar’s military junta sentenced almost 2,400 people to prison terms in February, more than doubling the number of prisoners it sentenced since taking power in the 2021 coup to nearly 4,700.
Statistics from the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, or AAPP, showed that between the coup and Jan. 31, 2023, the junta had sentenced 2,299 people, but in February 2023 alone, it sentenced 2,384.
According to the reports of the AAPP, in a single day on February 13, a record number of 1,293 people were arrested and 1,274 people were imprisoned nationwide.
Government opponents said the surge in imprisonments is an attempt by the junta to instill fear among the public, many of whom remain resistant to accepting junta rule more than two years after the military ousted the country’s democratically elected government.
Among those sentenced in February were 13 civilians who were deemed to be in violation of the country’s anti-terrorism law, according to reports that surfaced on the Telegram social media app, which has become a haven for pro-military writers who support the junta.
The 13 civilians include Myo Tun, 20, from the capital Naypyidaw, who got four years for what the court said was a violation of the anti-terrorism law. Soldiers beat and arrested Myo Tun in November 2021 and he has not seen his family since.
“We are not satisfied by this sentence by any means,” a friend of Myo Tun’s family, who like all other unnamed sources in this report requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA’s Burmese Service.
“Giving such a prison term to a young man of only 20 years is stupid, it’s an act of bullying to those who blindly rely on weapons,” the family friend said. “I want to ask if they even found any trace of terrorism-related materials among his property.”
Another 20-year-old, Myo Ko, of the Sagaing region, also got four years in violation of the same law for what the junta claimed was encouragement of violence. He had merely dropped out of school in protest of pro-military education, a person close to the family said.
“Myo Ko is still a kid at a little over 20 years old, and has not experienced life yet. He is very honest, peaceful, well-mannered and polite,” the source said. “Since the military is imprisoning kids under unfair laws, … I will continue to work toward uprooting the military dictatorship to the best of my ability as a citizen.”
An official of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners told RFA that the junta has repeatedly imposed the death penalty, often without showing any evidence.
The military junta announced on state media under its control that it has given amnesty and released prisoners from various prisons across the country four times over the past two years.
But most of those released have been mostly criminal prisoners and only a very small number of political prisoners who were jailed for opposing the military council were among them.
A lawyer in Yangon, said that since the military junta amended the anti-terrorism law in August 2021, he has seen repeated use of that law being used in court cases.
Up until June 30, 2022, the junta had been using Section 505 of the Penal code, which concerns spreading rumors or reports with the intent to cause fear or alarm among the public to the point that a person could be induced to commit offenses against the state, the lawyer said
Additionally, the junta has abused the court system, by charging people it arrests in multiple courts in multiple municipalities in order to extract maximum punishment, he said.
According to the AAPP, the junta used the anti-terrorism law to arrest 1,293 people and sentence 1,274 on a single day on Feb. 13. Both figures amount to more than half of the total for the entire month of February.
Nay Phone Latt, the spokesman for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government told RFA that the military junta courts are only nominal.
“A terrorist group has no right to make or amend any law. A person must have the right to defend himself or herself under the law,” he said. “The trial must be held in public courts that people can witness.”
He said these rights are enshrined in the International Declaration of Human Rights. “But the junta just labels places as ‘courts’ and conducts trials and gives sentences without these basic requirements.”
Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.