People across Myanmar closed their businesses and stayed home on Friday as they staged a “Silent Strike” against the junta following two military atrocities that sparked nationwide anger in recent days.
Under the motto “Our city, our rule,” Friday’s strike came after calls by anti-regime activists and the National Unity Government (NUG) for people to leave the country’s streets empty between 10am and 4pm.
Local media published pictures of deserted streets and markets in numerous towns and cities, including the capital Naypyitaw, while netizens posted photos of themselves on Facebook wearing black shirts and giving a three-fingered Hunger Games salute.
“Conquer the extinction of human rights with revolution,” they wrote, another of the day’s slogans.
The strike coincides with international Human Rights Day and commemorates the 30th anniversary of the 10-D Movement, a student-led demonstration calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under detention in 1991.
Wet markets in Yangon’s Pazundaung and Yay Kyaw neighbourhoods, which are normally bustling with sellers and buyers the whole day, were deserted from 10am, two local sources told Myanmar Now.
“The shop owners informed their customers in advance that they would open only until 9am and would close by 10am. Now nearly every shop is closed. Only one or two people in sight,” said a 25-year-old resident of Pazundaung.
A shop owner in Yangon’s Thaketa said the junta’s municipal authorities came to two neighbourhood markets around 8am and pressured shop owners to open their businesses.
The officials allegedly told shop owners that the military would come to check the market and urged them to open, according to the shop owner.
He said that a few shops stayed open until 9:30am and junta soldiers never showed up at one of the markets. His shop remained closed, he added.
Officials accompanied by troops did arrive at the No. 10 Market and allegedly told shop owners that they would take note of which businesses had closed and jail the owners.
“A municipal authority spoke rudely in some places that they would fine and jail them, not even for one or two years, but for ten years. He said they are not the previous government anymore,” the shop owner said, citing other owners who were threatened.
“We will open and close our shops as we wish. This doesn’t concern them. Threatening us into opening our shops like that is just inhumane,” he added.
An eyewitness told Myanmar Now that soldiers, police and municipal officials took items placed in front of closed shops in Kamayut and Hlaing townships at around 11am.
“They were taking things like chairs. Since they were armed, I couldn’t watch them for long,” the source said.
At the Bayintnaung Warehouse and Wholesale Centre in Hlaing the majority of shops were closed and there were only a few trucks around, according to a businessman there. The center is an important trade hub and usually one of the most crowded areas in the commercial capital.
“It is practically empty today; nearly all the shops are closed,” he said.
"Silent Strike" in capital Naypyitaw— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) December 10, 2021
Roads and markets are seen empty in capital Naypyitaw on Friday morning as residents take part in the nationwide "Silent Strike" on International Human Rights Day. (Photos- CJ) pic.twitter.com/RfldUuUiSj
Shopping malls in Yangon remained open, but few shoppers showed up.
Two people who are engaged and were due to be officially married at a signing ceremony on Friday said they postponed the event until 4pm, when the strike ended.
The 33-year-old bride, who requested anonymity, told Myanmar Now that rescheduling the ceremony caused difficulties because it involved many other people and there were pre-arranged activities.
“We want to participate in and support this movement,” she said.
A few dozen pro-military protesters took to the streets in Yangon in the afternoon, according to unverified photos posted on Facebook.
A Mandalay resident said the strike showed that the military had failed to gain control of Myanmar more than 10 months after it staged a February 1 coup.
“It’s been several months since the military seized power but they still can’t rule us,” he said. “The people are still defying their rule regardless of the threat to their lives.”
After 4pm, videos of residents clapping to mark the success of the strike circulated on Facebook. Ministers of the NUG posted videos congratulating the public for taking part in the movement and showing defiance against the junta.
In response to weeks of mass nationwide street protests against the military in February and March, the junta launched a campaign of terror involving massacres, torture and mass imprisonment.
The crackdown eventually dampened the street protests but activists have continued flash-mob demonstrations across the country since then.
The resistance has also continued with labour strikes, boycotts and guerrilla-style armed attacks against junta targets in a bid to topple the military.
Friday’s strike came amid renewed public fury this week after 11 men and boys were massacred, and apparently burned alive, in Sagaing Region and junta forces rammed a vehicle into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Yangon.
The strike received even more public support than anti-junta resistance groups had expected, said Wai Yan, a protest leader. “The people showed that the revolution and popular defiance of the military council have not lost momentum,” he told Myanmar Now.