A large security presence restricted access to a shamed Myanmar Plaza this morning, one day after protestors highlighting the military’s violence towards women were themselves attacked by security personnel working for the popular mall.
As the culture of violence engendered by the military slipped ominously into the private sector, footage captured by shoppers appears to show guards working for the mall’s Vietnamese operator, HAGL, storming the small protest, manhandling a young man and woman.
After the event, two protestors were said to have been temporarily taken into the custody of Myanmar Plaza, whilst two young men told Khit Thit Media that they had fought off security guards and fled. The BBC has reported that all those detained have now been released.
A female protester published photographic evidence of cuts received after being punched in the face, whilst a young man said he went to hospital after being kicked in the leg by the mall’s staff.
Following these revelations, Burmese social media went into overdrive with calls for boycotts being shared tens of thousands of times.
“I know from working with the management that they will ridicule this event and say that people will quickly return. We need to make a sustained boycott of the mall,” wrote one netizen in a post that was shared over 20,000 times last night.
Emboldened by their recent victory over Myanmar Brewery, citizens were quick to get behind the boycott, incensed that the culture of impunity had spread to the private sector—peaceful protests had been held in the mall sporadically since February, leading many to question the motives behind yesterday’s violent crackdown.
Last night, it was reported that even taxi drivers and food delivery couriers were refusing to travel to the mall, in solidarity with the boycott.
“I usually work the part of Mayangone that includes Myanmar Plaza—as soon as I saw the news, I must have turned down ten customers. Today, nobody except office staff wants to go there,” one local driver said.
Within the hour, scores of stall holders and store tenants—many of whom are operated by owners with links to crony groups—had signalled their intent to pause or end trading in the mall. International franchises Bonchon and Gloria Jean’s Coffee, as well as LG and Sony announced closures.
The management of Myanmar Plaza yesterday stated that it was “fully aware of the incident” and “believes in the expression of opinions & views in a peaceful manner.” The statement added that it was “sorry” for the actions of site personnel and, somewhat contradictorily, that “the young people involved were escorted peacefully away.” DVB requested further comment from the group this morning, but has yet to receive a reply.
Quick to further politicise the incident, military cheerleader, influencer Shwe Yupar Oo, was less sympathetic. Publishing a screenshot of the Facebook profile of a man she alleged had been involved in the violence, she called the security guard “who beat and arrested protesters” a “great staff member” and a “responsible citizen of Myanmar”.
Taking note, a number of Yangon PDF groups made statements escalating the violent dynamic. Yangon People’ s Defense Force (Bahan) warned “security guards to be careful from this moment on”, whilst the Army Representing Myanmar Society (ARMS) stated that people should avoid shopping at the mall, and that it “would not be responsible for any harm [coming to those] inside the plaza”. The People’s Defence Force (Pa La Pha) released statements to a similar effect.
The building, usually bustling with office workers and shoppers, has since been swarmed by the junta. DVB visited Myanmar Plaza this morning and was met by security forces performing intensive security checks at all of its entrances. At least ten heavily armed police and soldiers have been positioned by entrances, and military trucks patrol the area. Police were seen to be searching every vehicle entering the complex, whilst a number of staff from businesses operating in the mall were observed removing stock in vans.
A local street vendor said that all shops operating inside the building had been shuttered today, and that stall holders operating in the vicinity had been asked to suspend business, causing a degree of outrage amongst those depending on the large amount of human traffic the mall usually generates.
A number of brutal instances of sexual assault performed on women by soldiers has refocused the Burmese public’s attention on the Tatmadaw’s long established weaponization of rape.