Junta threatens prison, execution for supporting Myanmar opposition

Those who donate as little as one kyat or ‘like’ social media posts face stiff punishment.

Anyone in Myanmar found to have provided as little as one kyat in financial support to anti-junta groups or engaged with anti-junta content on social media now faces anywhere from two years in prison to execution, according to a spokesman for the military regime.

Deputy Minister of Information Major General Zaw Min Tun told reporters at a press conference in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday that donating to or supporting Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), ousted lawmakers of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), or the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group is punishable under Myanmar’s anti-terrorism law.

Purchasing treasury bonds or lottery tickets for the groups is also subject to punishment, he said, adding that “donating just a single kyat” – approximately one-five-hundredth of a U.S. cent – could earn the offender a minimum of a decade behind bars.

“Whether you ‘like’ or ‘share’ [an anti-junta social media post], you are violating Section 124 (b) of the Penal Code [for incitement to destroy the state]. You can be sentenced anywhere from three years to 10 years in prison and you can also be charged a fine,” Zaw Min Tun said.

“The reason you are subject to a 10-year prison sentence or a death sentence for donating just one kyat is because it is in violation of [the Anti-Terrorism Act]. You need to understand that. Even if you don't understand the law, the law will not forgive you.”

In addition to violating Myanmar’s anti-terrorism law and inciting the public against the state, Zaw Min Tun also said such actions are in breach of the country’s Electronic Communications Law. A conviction under the charges is punishable by a minimum sentence of two years in prison and a maximum sentence of death.

A resident of the commercial capital Yangon, who declined to be named for security reasons, told RFA Burmese that the junta is trying to deter support for the opposition through threats.

“These tyrants will do anything in their power to stop people from supporting the opposition, but the people will do whatever they can to support them,” she said.

“The more they make life difficult for us, the closer we will be to victory [against the regime]. It might be a bit challenging now [to support the opposition], but we will make sure that we can help them.”

A veteran high court lawyer told RFA on condition of anonymity that while providing support to anti-junta movements can be subject to prosecution, Myanmar’s law says nothing about jailing people for simply liking posts on social media.

“Giving ‘Likes’ [online] is our right. It’s already mentioned in the provisions of civil rights and the basic rights of citizens under the [military-drafted] 2008 Constitution,” he said.

“Based on what [Zaw Min Tun] said, action can be taken against someone for the content of their comment or even the way the text is written.”

‘Facing a crisis’

A spokesman from the Dawei Ashaytaw PDF group in Tanintharyi region said the junta is threatening people with legal provisions because its leadership is afraid that the wider public will take up arms to challenge its rule.

“We have witnessed the rising number of deaths of military soldiers in Sagaing and Magwe regions,” he said.

“We believe that there is a lack of unity within the army. And so, they are making threats to raise morale within the army as well as a deterrent to the people."

The spokesman warned that such threats could lead to a drop in domestic contributions to the armed opposition.

Political analyst Than Soe Naing called the junta's statements “illegal and excessive.”

"They are talking too much about the law. But as usual, the law is whatever they say it is,” he said.

“So if those laws are used as the basis for action, we must say that democracy in Myanmar has completely fallen into darkness.”

Kyaw Zaw, spokesman for the office of NUG President Duwa Lashi La, told RFA that the junta is becoming increasingly desperate in its actions.

“All they can do now is threaten and terrorize the public. And that is what they are doing,” he said.

“Saying that people will be arrested and charged for donating a single kyat … is because they are facing a crisis. They are afraid because they are in their last hour. They know they are going to lose and they know what is coming.”

According to Thai NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), junta authorities have arrested nearly 15,600 civilians since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup, nearly 12,500 of whom have been sentenced or remain in detention. The group says authorities have killed more than 2,300 civilians over the last 20 months, mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.