Why Myanmar Celebrities Are Being Targeted by the Military

Entertainment figures, models, and social media personalities are facing charges for supporting anti-coup protests.

Apr 16 2021, 8:22am

In January, Myanmar model-actor Paing Takhon went viral for photos of him as a “hot monk.” Three months later, he was arrested in a widening crackdown against celebrity opponents of a military coup.

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According to the BBC, Paing Takhon’s sister revealed in a Facebook post that the popular model was taken from his mother’s home in Yangon by soldiers on Thursday, April 8. Like tens of thousands across Myanmar, the 24-year-old had joined protests and spoken out against military rule on social media. The post about his arrest, as well as the actor’s own Instagram and Facebook accounts, appear to have been taken down.

Since the generals seized power in the Feb. 1 coup and ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, people have taken to the streets all over the country in mass protests. The military has hit back hard, killing at least 720 people and arresting more than 3,000.

But celebrities who have spoken out against the junta, including actors, musicians, and social media influencers, are now also facing the wrath of the military, finding themselves on wanted lists broadcast via state-backed television.

Movie star couple Pyay Ti Oo and Eaindra Kyaw Zin were arrested, the Irrawaddy reported. Famous actor Lu Min and Myanmar comedian Zaganar have also been detained.

An estimated 30 people working in the arts have been detained since the coup, according to a review of a list published by monitor the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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In an April 2 tweet to her over 140,000 followers, actress May Toe Khine said she was included in one such list, adding she was facing arrest for using her platform to speak the truth.

“I will not be able to report much on here anymore,” she said in her post. “Please always pay attention to news in Myanmar until we win.”

Like other celebrities, she was accused of violating section 505A, a form of incitement which was deliberately broadened in scope after the coup, according to Human Rights Watch.

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

The 25-year-old actress, who has not posted on Twitter since April 8, frequently shared videos and images from the protests, voicing strong support for the Civil Disobedience Movement, or CDM, while decrying the military regime. Her last post was about the “marching shoes strike” that was held on April 8, where flower-filled shoes were publicly displayed to commemorate those who have been killed by the military. 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

She also tweeted about Paing Takhon’s disappearance, describing him as “a very close friend” who was “abducted by terrorists.” 

According to an analysis by Frontier Myanmar in its newsletter, the public wanted lists increasingly include “ordinary, even random, people who do not have many social media followers,” a move that “seems designed to instill fear into all social media users, in the hope that people will stay silent rather than expressing opposition to the regime.”

John Quinley, a senior human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, told VICE World News that the move to target celebrities is part of the junta’s efforts to “silence all dissent.” 

Roxy Owan, a 22-year-old freelance photographer and stylist in Myanmar, said public figures are charged with section 505A for “speaking the truth.” 

“If they can arrest celebrities, imagine to what extent of injustice they will have towards ordinary civilians,” Owan told VICE World News. “Supporting democracy is like asking for death,” Owan added, a reference to the killings of hundreds of protesters by security forces since the coup

“Burmese people are living in a dystopian present where many innocent lives were taken by the military with no remorse.”

Tagged:

Entertainment, world politics, worldnews, myanmar coup

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