Myanmar’s military junta has been panned for threatening a group that has documenting security force abuses in the country since the Feb. 1 coup.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that on April 26 the junta accused human rights monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) of operating illegally because it was not registered as an organization.
The rights group said the military’s announcement threatened “severe action” against the group for causing “state service personnel and public panic” that will “incite the occurrence of more riots” and “harm state stability, rule of law and restoration of law and order.”
AAPP has documented security force abuses since the coup, including killings of protesters, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and unjust court convictions.
“While the world’s media and diplomats regularly cite the AAPP’s daily updates on the military crackdown, Myanmar’s generals are desperately trying to silence the group to keep the truth from getting out,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.
“The threats are part of the junta’s shroud of silence and censorship, targeting frontline groups like AAPP, arresting journalists, and shutting down the internet,” he said.
The junta’s efforts to target the AAPP are illustrated in the 115-page briefing paper, obtained by HRW, that the junta leader, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, presented to leaders at the ASEAN summit in Jakarta on April 24. Min Aung Hlaing claimed, without providing evidence, that the AAPP uses “data” that “appeared in fake and hoax news.”
Min Aung Hlaing added that the junta was “very upset” that “world media and international organizations restated” that information.
AAPP told the rights group that the military’s threats have forced them to close their office in Yangon and compelled their staff to go into hiding and work from undisclosed locations.
The junta has also arbitrarily arrested journalists to prevent reporting on the opposition Civil Disobedience Movement’s broad-based resistance to the coup and the security force abuses. UNESCO reported that the junta has arrested at least 71 journalists since the coup.
AAPP have said that 48 journalists are currently known to be in detention, most in undisclosed locations without access to their families or legal counsel. Many other journalists have fled to border regions controlled by ethnic groups, or to neighboring countries.
The junta has brought charges against numerous journalists and activists under revised penal code provisions adopted on Feb. 14.
“Groups like the AAPP and the independent media are playing a critical role holding Myanmar’s junta accountable, and they need to be able to continue their work,” Robertson said.
AAPP said on April 29 that 759 people have been killed by the junta since Feb. 1.