Press release February 2, 2021
Myanmar: Coup Leaders Must Release Detainees and Restore Civilian Rule
Military commanders are exacerbating the country’s grave governance challenges.
In response to the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The military’s seizure of power overturns the outcome of the November 8 elections and represents a fundamental assault on democracy and peace in Myanmar,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “While the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has been a disappointment in many respects, this coup will do nothing to improve matters and can only exacerbate long-term problems like a weak economy and multiple ethnic conflicts. Military leaders claim they are acting in response to alleged irregularities in the November elections, but that is no excuse for unilaterally and unconstitutionally evicting Myanmar’s elected civilian leaders.”
“We call on the military to immediately release all political prisoners, allow the government and parliament to function free of military intervention, and remove all impediments to the news media and internet service,” Abramowitz continued. “We also urge democratic governments around the world to coordinate their opposition to the coup and prevent Myanmar from returning to its former status as one of the world’s most oppressive states.”
Early on the morning of February 1, the military detained more than 45 politicians and activists, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and other senior political leaders. Some internet and telephone services were disrupted. The military declared a one-year state of emergency and announced that its commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, would lead the country. The military pointed to alleged election fraud as the reason for the coup, stated that the electoral commission would be reconstituted, emphasized the need to restore peace in the country, and said new elections would be held once these tasks are completed.
In the November elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won 82 percent of the elected seats in parliament, while the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) took just 6 percent, though the military itself is guaranteed a quarter of the parliament seats under the constitution. Citing civil unrest, the election commission had canceled balloting in multiple areas of the country, with disproportionate effects on voting in ethnic minority regions. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented candidates from campaigning easily or widely, and many parties and candidates relied on digital media to campaign. Access to online information was notably limited in parts of Rakhine and Chin States due to a government-imposed internet shutdown that had been in place for more than a year.
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