Myanmar junta targets 100 celebrities with social media followings - Nikkei Asia

BANGKOK -- Myanmar's junta has placed at least 100 celebrities on its wanted list for allegedly inciting protests against its seizure of power, taking aim at those with big social media followings. 

Since Friday, the nightly news on state television has named 20 prominent figures accused of violating the law. The list is later reprinted the next day in a government-controlled newspaper. The list swelled to 100 on Tuesday night.

The Global New Light of Myanmar reserves a full page for the day's 20 wanted celebrities, publishing the links to their Facebook pages and their profile photos. The tactic suggests the junta is closely monitoring the social media postings of prominent people to discourage support for the protests against the Feb. 1 coup. 

Several actors and journalists on the wanted lists have already been arrested, according to local media.

The military is going after the celebrities on charges that they "intentionally committed incitement of government employees" to join the civil disobedience movement. They are also accused of "spreading information in showing their support for" the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, a group positioning itself as the civilian government-in-exile.

The charges are based on an amendment to the penal code made by the junta in mid-February. Conviction could result in up to three years in prison.

Phway Phway, a nationally recognized actress, was named as a wanted suspect on Saturday. Since February, she has written Facebook posts in support of the civil disobedience movement.

The next day, the 32-year-old actress once again took to her Facebook page to voice her defiance.

"As a citizen, I said what needed to be said, and I don't regret it," said Phway Phway. "I will be faithful to the truth."

The post has elicited over 5,000 replies, mainly from her 8.3 million followers.

"Be careful," said one poster.

"I'm always rooting for you," wrote another.

The wanted lists are replete with actors, singers, models and other influencers. The names have included celebrities who appeared in advertisements for Japanese companies operating in Myanmar. The junta has also gone after freelance journalists who tweet updates in English, along with a travel vlogger.

Most of the wanted celebrities had no involvement in politics before the coup. Han Lay, crowned Miss Grand Myanmar, is a case in point. Having taken part in street protests after Feb. 1, she used an international beauty pageant in Thailand as a platform to speak out against the junta. 

"There are so many people dying," Han Lay said at the event. "Please help Myanmar. We need your urgent international help right now."

In the two months since the coup, the economy has remained at a virtual standstill as the civil disobedience movement, powered by social media, leaves government offices and banks closed. With security personnel using deadly force indiscriminately, citizens have taken to other forms of protests, such as strewing trash on roads or placing flowers at sidewalks and bus stations.

Security forces have killed 581 people since the start of the coup through Tuesday, according to the non-profit Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Over 2,700 people have been detained, including former civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and deputies in her ousted National League for Democracy party. Arrest warrants have been issued for more than 400 others.