Myanmar military expands martial law in strongholds of resistance

Expansion of martial law in 37 townships indicates the military is looking for new ways to crush resistance to its rule.

Myanmar’s military has imposed martial law in strongholds of anti-coup resistance which will see people accused of everything from treason to “spreading false news” being tried by military tribunals.

In the 37 townships affected by the new measures announced in state-controlled media on Friday, no appeals will be allowed for convictions handed down by military tribunals, except in cases where the death penalty has been imposed, and which must be approved by military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

The announcement appears to indicate that the military is looking for new ways to stamp out resistance in areas where people have taken up arms to fight against its power grab two years ago.

Expansion of martial law was required “to exercise more effective undertakings for ensuring security, the rule of law and local peace and tranquillity”, the state-run newspaper said.

Under the harsh new measures, military tribunals will hear criminal cases ranging from high treason to a ban on disseminating false news, which the army has already used to jail dozens of journalists.

The 37 townships affected by the imposition of martial law are located across eight states and regions – Sagaing, Chin, Magway, Bago, Mon, Karen, Taninthayi and Kayah.

The military has been engaged in regular clashes with the anti-coup People’s Defence Force, the armed wing of the opposition’s underground National Unity Government, in the new areas to come under martial law.

At least 11 other townships – six in the country’s main city and commercial hub Yangon and five in the second city, Mandalay – were already under similar military legal jurisdiction.

On Wednesday, the military announced it has extended the state of emergency it imposed at the time of the coup, a move that is likely to delay a general election that it had said could be held by August.

The military said it was necessary to extend the emergency for six months because the country was in an abnormal situation and more time was necessary to prepare for peaceful and stable elections.

Germany’s foreign ministry described the extension of martial law and the state of emergency as “illegitimate steps” and called for an end to the military’s violence and human rights abuses.

Myanmar’s military has been struggling to contain a nationwide insurrection by opponents of military rule who took up arms after peaceful protests against a coup on February 1, 2021, were suppressed with lethal force.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent watchdog that tracks killings and arrests, at least 2,948 civilians have been killed since the military toppled elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

A spokesperson for the National Unity Government told The Associated Press news agency that he believes the military will increase killings and torture of people under the pretext of stabilising the country.

“We want to inform the soldiers and policemen who are protecting the junta not to continue fighting the unwinnable war, that the people are fighting them back,” spokesperson Nay Phone said.

A separate statement from the military said all administrative and judicial work in the designated areas must be led by regional military commanders, who can initiate military tribunals for 23 offences with punishments including the death penalty and indefinite imprisonment.

Meanwhile, in surprise comments reported by state media on Wednesday, Min Aung Hlaing made a rare acknowledgement that more than a third of the country’s townships were not under full military control.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies