Struggling to crush the two-month-old protest movement against a coup, Myanmar’s military leaders are cracking down on the country’s best-known celebrities to block any support for the opposition campaign.
More than 50 soldiers came to arrest Paing Takhon, a 24-year-old model and actor who spoke out against the coup on Thursday, his sister told Reuters. He was taken away and it is not known where he is now.
Legendary actor and director Lu Min, who has appeared in more than 1,000 films, was arrested in February for supporting the anti-coup movement, his wife said.
The country’s most famous comedian Zarganar was arrested on Tuesday, media reported. He had already been arrested in 2008 by the junta and released in 2011.
Appeals to a spokesperson for the junta have not been answered.
More than 600 people have been killed in the junta’s crackdown on street protests, according to a count by an activist group. In addition to the arrests, the military has also issued arrest warrants for more than 100 actors, singers, artists and other personalities known to be social media influencers.
Paing Takhon has taken an active part in the protests, according to photos on his fan page which show him wearing a helmet and protective clothing with a gas mask hanging from his neck. A video on the page showed security forces firing tear gas at protesters and claiming he was on the front lines.
“He’s not only (an) actor, model and singer, but also our hero now,” one fan wrote on the page. “As they were shooting real bullets he ran with us and didn’t give up. He asked his friend at the end of the video, “Where are we going to go next?” “
The actor’s sister, Thi Thi Lwin, said the military detained his brother at 4:30 a.m. at their parents’ home in Yangon, where he remained for several days without feeling well.
Myanmar has a thriving arts and entertainment scene. Much of the theater and music is rooted in traditional themes, but Burmese-language covers of Asian and Western pop songs are also extremely popular, and young Burmese singers and actors have many followers.
Khin Myat Myat Naing, a travel blogger with more than 750,000 followers who is on the arrest warrant list, said authorities were concerned about posts supporting the civil disobedience movement and the deposed civilian government.
“I will run and do my best until the end for those who have been arrested,” she said in a post on her Facebook page.
Other people on the list of those charged under Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s Criminal Code include actor couple Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Pyay Ti Oo, as well as singers Tu Tu, Chit Thu Wai and Athen Cho Swe.
The section seeks to punish anyone who “makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report” that could provoke a mutiny by a member of the military. Anyone found guilty of the offense can be jailed for up to two years.
Pyay Ti Oo, Eaindra Kyaw Zin, and Paing Takhon are Myanmar’s highest paid actors and models.
A representative of the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said the junta’s goals were obvious.
“A social influencer or posts from a celebrity are more effective than posts from hundreds or thousands of normal people,” said the representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Another reason is that they want to give a message to people that they have even charged famous celebrities.”
But he added: “People won’t back down when they stop celebrities. Only hatred will grow towards the junta.
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