Long-simmering fears of a military-led subversion of Myanmar’s recent steps toward democracy became reality early Monday as the nation’s armed forces arrested civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and announced a one-year state of emergency that transfers power to Min Aung Hlaing, the Southeast Asian country’s top general.
In an announcement broadcast on state television Monday morning, the military justified its seizure of power with claims of widespread fraud in November parliamentary elections which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide.
Myanmar’s election commission officially rejected the military’s claims of fraud as baseless last week.
The military takeover and the detention of Suu Kyi—a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who, since becoming head of government, has been accused of complicity in the Burmese military’s genocidal assault on Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority—was swiftly condemned by international human rights organizations, United Nations experts, and peace activists as a dangerous attack on democracy.
“This is an ominous moment for people in Myanmar, and threatens a severe worsening of military repression and impunity,” Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy campaigns director for Southeast Asia, said in a statement.
“The concurrent arrests of prominent political activists and human rights defenders sends a chilling message that the military authorities will not tolerate any dissent amid today’s unfolding events.”
“Previous military coups and crackdowns in Myanmar have seen large scale violence and extrajudicial killings by security forces,” she continued. “Reports of a telecommunications blackout pose a further threat to the population at such a volatile time—especially as Myanmar battles a pandemic, and as internal conflict against armed groups puts civilians at risk in several parts of the country. It is vital that full phone and internet services be resumed immediately.”
As the Associated Press pointed out, Myanmar’s “2008 constitution, implemented during military rule, has a clause that says in cases of national emergency, the president in coordination with the military-dominated National Defense and Security Council can issue an emergency decree to hand over the government’s executive, legislative, and judicial powers to the military commander-in-chief.”