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Radio Free Asia

Myanmar Junta Tries to Dim Star Power of Protests With Arrest of Beloved Actor

2021-04-08 -- Myanmar military authorities arrested a heartthrob model-actor with fans across Southeast Asia on Thursday, the latest and most famous of scores of celebrities to be rounded up for backing the anti-junta protests in a campaign that has driven other stars into hiding or exile.

Authorities arrested Paing Takhon, a film actor and popular male model, at his home in Yangon's North Dagon township at dawn Thursday, with military-run Myawaddy TV saying that he has been charged under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code for spreading dissent against the military.

The 24-year-old model had been active in protests against the military dictatorship since soldiers overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government on Feb. 1.

His sister, May Chit Thway, wrote on Facebook that police and soldiers arrived in eight trucks to take Paing Takhon from his home. "Please speak out and pray for him," she wrote in a phrase widely shared on social media by fans.

Paing Takhon had written on social media on Wednesday that he hadn't been well for several days. "I used to pray whenever I worshipped Buddha for good health and to get peace in Myanmar as soon as possible," he wrote.

His arrest unleashed a torrent of sympathy on social media, with #freepaingtakhon trending as a hashtag on Twitter and shared in many languages.

"Military in Myanmar arrested Paing Takhon, the most handsome person in Southeast Asia," tweeted Germany-based Indonesian historian and blogger Nadya Karima Melati.

The young star's arrest came two days after security authorities took away the country's most famous comedian, Zarganar, in Yangon's Tamwe township, his colleagues wrote on Facebook.

Myanmar authorities have charged dozens of film stars and other celebrities for allegedly supporting the country's civil disobedience movement and participating in anti-junta protests. Many have fled their homes to avoid being arrested. If tried and found guilty under Section 505(a), they could face up to three years in prison.

The artists and celebrities have pledged to stand with the people against the military regime that seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, despite their arrests and charges.

Earlier in the week, state-run Global New Light of Myanmar published lists of people, including actors, musicians, and social media influencers who have been charged with "spreading news to affect state stability."

The State Administration Council, the junta government, issued a warning to media outlets on April 4 not to broadcast films or shows, or display works of art by the artists for whom arrest warrants had been issued.

'It has caused deep scars'

Composer and songwriter Min Chit said that state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) informed FM radio stations not to broadcast songs by artists on the list, though many already had asked the stations to not play their songs in a show of solidarity with sympathy for the hundreds killed in protests.

"It's good that they have banned them because we don't want our songs to be on air," he said.

The military imposed similar restrictions on singers and artists after it quelled a popular uprising in 1988, ushering in harsh junta rule that was a dark age for creative people in the country of 54 million people.

Well-known cartoonist Maung Maung Fountain told RFA that the cultural icons on the junta's list fear being treated brutally by the hard men of the military.

"It has caused deep scars in the hearts of the artists. I don't think it can be easily forgotten," he said.

"I became a cartoonist because people accepted me, so I keep my fear on one side and carry out the responsibility they gave me on the other side. I'll keep on doing what I have to do," he said.

Neither Min Chit nor Maung Maung Fountain, who are both in hiding, were on the junta's list when they spoke with RFA on Tuesday.

"The military wants people to love them, to be afraid of them, to respect them, so it will make arrests, torture, or kill the artists," said a poet in Yangon who declined to give his name. "But most of us will be ready to fight against the evil."

So far, more than 120 had been charged under Section 505(a), a charge often leveled at activists and journalists.

Other celebrities on the list include singers Lin Lin and Chit Thu Wai and actors Phway Phway, Eaindra Kyaw Zin, and Pyay Ti Oo.

Myanmar beauty queen Han Lay, a contestant in the Miss Grand International pageant in Thailand, asked the international community during the event last week to help Myanmar regain democracy.

"Earlier my protests were about the detention of our leaders, but now I need to protest as an ordinary human being to save the lives of the people, so I decided to ask for help from the global community through the media," she told RFA in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Han Lay said that although she has not heard any rumors that her name is on the junta's list, she is still afraid to return to Myanmar after the pageant.

"If singers and celebrities can get arrested just for writing posts on social media, how can a person like me, who has come to Thailand to represent the country at a pageant and talk to the international media like this, be safe?" she asked.

Trouble in Taze

As Myanmar's rich and famous joined the more than 2,800 people confirmed to be in detention, protesters in cities across the France-sized country continued to be gunned down for resisting the military takeover.

At least 11 people were killed and more than 20 injured in an overnight clash between local residents and junta forces in Taze township in northwest Myanmar's Sagaing region, where residents denied soldiers entry into the area, witnesses said.

"When they began shooting at us, some of our people fired back and held them at bay for about half an hour," a protester who declined to give his name told RFA. "After that, we retreated into the city and some more people from nearby villages joined us."

After trying to enter the town, police and soldiers turned to less populated areas and indiscriminately fired weapons as they reached the suburbs, forcing residents to flee to safety, he said.

Later Thursday morning, about 50 police and soldiers searched the local monastery, used as a clinic in the past few days, but they could not make any arrests as protesters had already moved out, Taze residents said.

Troops patrolled area streets on Thursday, announcing via loudspeakers that any protesters they found would be shot, they said. Authorities cut off internet connections, making it difficult from residents to get information on the latest situation.

Internet access grew worse Thursday with intermittently inaccessible broadband service available on several networks, and authorities in some area confiscating satellite dishes used to access international news broadcasts, the Associated Press reported.

In Sagaing's Kawlin township, soldiers and police were stationed around the township Education Office which was razed to the ground around 1 a.m., and burned, residents said.

"The fire broke out during the curfew hours," said a woman who declined to be named. "The day before the fire, a staff member of the office was seen repeatedly taking out what was believed to be important documents. The head of the office had left earlier, two days ago."

Junta forces that have taken over the town of Pinlebu in Sagaing region since Tuesday are checking the cell phones of people they stop on the roads to see if they had send any images and news videos of the protests to the media, residents said.

"A photographer from Kawlin was arrested recently because of this, and they are looking for others such persons," said a local who declined to be named.

Anti-junta demonstrators also held protests in Sagaing's Kalay township, where a dozen people were killed Wednesday, according to aid workers, as soldiers and police searched streets and houses to arrest protesters.

Security forces were stationed at the district administration office next to the bus terminal, Taungphila junction, district police headquarters, City Hall, a university, and hospitals, one resident said.

"We can no longer travel safely," the local said. "Although they are everywhere, we will continue our revolution by changing the types of protest."

More arrests made

The military regime issued a statement Wednesday night about the situation in Kalay, saying that dozens of people in the Tahan quarter attacked troops clearing the streets, forcing them to strike back. Several security forces were critically injured, according to the junta, though it did not provide a figure.

The junta said that 18 boys had been arrested, but residents said the number could be higher.

"We are inquiring about the exact number now," said one local resident. "Some ethnic Chin residents were detained for having homemade rifles. Some were students."

About 15 people were injured in Wednesday's military crackdown, which left a young woman and a man in critical condition with serious injuries, aid workers said.

On Mar. 28, police in riot gear stormed a rally in Kalay, starting a weeklong clash between the protesters and the junta's security forces. As of Wednesday, about 30 protesters in all had been killed since the Feb. 1 coup.

In Hpakant township of neighboring Kachin state, seven youths, including two minors, were arrested by soldiers and police Thursday morning just before they began a protest march, after an informer told the police the boys were holding a meeting in a noodle shop, a protest leader said.

"Seven got arrested this morning. They were preparing for a march around 8 a.m. before people could gather at the rally point," he said. "I only have the names of five and don't know who the other two were. Among the five were two teenagers, not yet 18."

Since the coup, police have killed two people and arrested nearly 20 others during daily anti-junta rallies in Hpakant.

In Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state, security forces, who arrived in seven trucks, conducted door-to-door inspections Wednesday night in the Sitapu neighborhood, residents said. Despite the presence of soldiers and police throughout the city, a column of young people were able to stage a cat-and-mouse-style lightning protest, they said.

Anti-junta protests were held in various forms across the country on Thursday, especially in several townships in Mandalay region, Yangon region, Myitkyina in Kachin state, and the town of Ye in Mon state.

One was dubbed the "marching shoes strike" because dozens of dozens of pairs of shoes with placards and flowers honoring slain protesters were placed on the street in defiance of the military regime.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar human rights organization based in Thailand, said that as of Thursday, 614 people had been confirmed killed and 2,857 people were currently under detention by the military regime.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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