Myanmar junta declares martial law in 37 townships across the country

Myanmar’s military junta has declared martial law in 37 townships across the country and authorized military tribunals to hand down life sentences and the death penalty for a wide range of offenses, a move that political and military analysts say will lead to more bloodshed, displacement and terror.

Thursday’s move came a day after military leaders extended their emergency rule over the country for six more months. It marked the second anniversary of the Feb. 1, 2021, coup that ousted the democratically elected government.

All of the affected townships, scattered across eight states and regions, are in areas where anti-junta forces have a strong presence, from Sagaing in the north to Kayin in the south.

In fact, all the towns where martial law was declared are actually under control of forces opposed to the military government, said Defense Minister Yi Mon of the shadow National Unity Government, made up of members of the previous ruling party and other junta opponents.

“The military knows the actual situation – that they don’t control those areas but they declared martial law anyway just to save face,” he told RFA’s Burmese Service.



Still, martial law gives military commanders and military courts full judicial and administrative powers in those areas, allowing them to hand out the maximum penalty under the law for 23 specific crimes, including discrediting the state, illegal association, and unlawful possession of a weapon.

Giving military courts such power has no precedent in Myanmar, said a lawyer who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“As lawyers, we have never seen such an order issued,” the lawyer said. “Direction from the administration that the highest punishments must be imposed for these cases is not in accordance with the legal system that has been operating in Myanmar for generations nor international law.”

‘Like an ulcer that never heals’

Thein Tun Oo, executive director of Theyninga Institute for Strategic Studies, which is made up of former military officers, said that martial law had to be issued in order to crush rebel forces that have grown because the military had gone soft on them – a tacit acknowledgement that the military has faced serious setbacks.

“The military dealt with the armed resistance as softly as possible and avoided forceful attacks in some areas,” he said. “The military was giving them some time to think of peaceful ways in hope that they would join in on elections.

“But quite contrary to the military’s expectation, the resistance forces did not back down,” he said. “Armed resistance is like an ulcer that never heals as time passes. Now the martial law has been declared to crush them for the peace and security in those regions.”

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