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Violence against protestors in North Okkalapa

Myanmar Witness

25 Jul 2022

Report Published:

A series of violent incidents involving protestors, medical and charitable workers, and security forces in North Okkalapa on 3 March 2021.

Violence against protestors: Case Study, North Okkalapa, 3 March 2021

Executive Summary

On March 3 2021, large-scale anti-coup protests took place in North Okkalapa, a township in northern Yangon. According to the UN and multiple media reports, Myanmar security forces deployed lethal force to suppress these protests, resulting in up to 32 deaths, 50 people injured and over 100 people arrested. There were multiple reports of attacks on those providing aid to protestors, including attacks on medical workers and facilities and a charitable organisation. This report uses open-source footage and verification techniques to provide detailed analysis on a series of violent incidents involving protestors, medical and charitable workers and security forces in North Okkalapa on 3 March.

In the first incident verified by Myanmar Witness, at around 10.30 on Thudhamma Road, a police officer beats a man being held in police custody, appearing to leave him badly injured. There is no indication in the footage that the man was resisting arrest. According to media and social media reports, the man later died of his injuries.

In the second incident, footage taken on Aine Dar Damaryone Street (off Thudhamma Road) just after 11.30 shows police officers aiming a gun through the windows of an ambulance belonging to voluntary healthcare group Mon Myat Seik Htar (MMSH). Three ambulance workers then disembark from the ambulance into the custody of a group of police officers, who proceed to violently beat them before escorting them away. Further footage shows significant damage to the ambulance itself. Verified footage from the same incident shows three crew members from another ambulance belonging to the Dagon University Students Emergency Response Team (DUSERT) being arrested by police officers. Footage of the DUSERT ambulance taken around the same time shows damage to the ambulance, including a possible bullet hole in the windscreen. According to MMSH, DUSERT and media reports, the workers were detained in Insein for periods ranging from three weeks to seven months.

The third incident was widely reported to show a man being executed at close range by the police. In the video, a man is seen being apprehended by a group of police officers, before being shot from close range, falling to the ground, beaten and dragged away. By analysing multiple pieces of footage, Myanmar Witness verified that the incident took place at a junction of Thudhamma Road in the Waziyar area of North Okkalapa at around noon. However, further footage shows that the man regained his feet and walked away following the incident, indicating that he was not executed, but likely shot at close range with a non-lethal round, briefly interrogated and released. That further footage also shows police surrounding a second person, who is lying prone on the ground. The injured person is left sitting motionless, propped against a table, as the police withdraw. Later footage shows this person is no longer in the same position; it is unclear what happened to them.

In the fourth incident – geolocated to Thudhamma Road and chronolocated to 13.43 to 14.00 on March 3 – a protestor barricade can be seen set on fire, reportedly by security forces. Trucks which appear to be police or military vehicles are visible on one side of the barricade. The sound of gunshots can be heard and at least two protestors are seen to be seriously injured, and reportedly died of their injuries. A bullet casing is visible in one image from the scene.

At approximately the same time, there was a fifth incident further north on Thudhamma Road, involving a confrontation between protestors and police. Police can be seen advancing in the direction of a large group of protestors and tear gas is fired. A sixth incident slightly later at 14.45 to 15.00 shows several hundred protestors at a barricade on Thudhamma Road, with security force presence visible in the background. While there was no confrontation in this footage, it helps us understand the movements of protestors and security forces.

The most significant incident verified by Myanmar Witness took place in late afternoon on Thudhamma Road. Footage shows soldiers opening fire at protestors multiple times in the course of around 15 minutes. We have verified footage of at least two people killed by headshots during the incident, and two or three others very seriously wounded who also appear to have died before reaching hospital. At points in the footage, we see protestors appearing to use catapults and throw objects in the direction of the military. There is no further footage indicating that protestors were armed or otherwise violent. Multiple reports, including credible sources quoted by the UN, claim that Light Infantry Division 77 were responsible for this incident. Video and photos show they were very active in Yangon on the day, but MW has not been able to find definitive proof of their responsibility through open-source methods,.

There were numerous reports and images purportedly showing teargas and munitions being fired from airplanes during the protests in North Okkalapa. While it was not possible to verify the images of planes, the images were unique to the day and posted by other users in nearby areas, which we would expect if genuine. We were able to verify footage showing munitions falling onto protestors in Thudhamma Road near North Okkalapa roundabout. The incident was reportedly around 1800, but it is not possible to chronolocate accurately from the footage. However, due to the nature of the munitions, it is highly unlikely that they were fired from planes, and more likely they were fired from a high vantage point or possibly from a mortar. We identified one example of misinformation (falsely identifying birds as planes) and one of possible disinformation (using an image from a Pakistani airshow) around this incident.

Around midnight on March 3, Myanmar Witness verified an attack on the Free Funeral Society, a charitable organisation providing emergency assistance to the protest movement. The attacks appear to have been undertaken by a group of people, and a convoy including large trucks, SUVs and smaller vehicles is seen at the site at the time of incident. Footage showed significant damage to the building and bloodstains on the floor, as well as least two people who appear to have been wounded in the attack, one of whom states that the police were responsible.

Overview of incidents in North Okkalapa, March 3 2021

~1030: Man beaten 1130: Attack on ambulance ~1200: Alleged execution ~1330-1401: Burning of barricade, firing on protestors ~1330/1430: Police advance on barricade 1443-1500: Forces and trucks at roundabout 1652-1707: Heavy firing on protestors Midnight: Attack on funeral service ~1800: Canisters, planes

North Okkalapa, Yangon 16°53'40.2"N, 96°09'24.9"E

Introduction and Context

Large-scale anti-coup protests took place in North Okkalapa on March 3 2021. According to the UN, from 09.30 on March 3, hundreds of anti-coup protestors peacefully gathered on the Thudhamma Road. At around 11.00, multiple trucks carrying police and military forces arrived and stationed themselves in the vicinity of the protests, reportedly blocking routes out of the area. When protestors refused to disperse, security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas cannisters and stun grenades, with reports suggesting over 100 protestors were arrested. According to “credible reports and sources” cited in the same UN report, unarmed protestors gathered again at around 16.30 the same day demanding the release of the arrested persons. Several military trucks carrying soldiers from the Light Infantry Division (LID) 77 arrived on the scene and began to shoot into the crowd using live ammunition, leading to between 9 and 32 death and 50 people injured. The UN also cited multiple reports of attacks on health workers, facilities and equipment and detention of volunteer medics, as well as the raid of a charitable organization providing funeral services. Myanmar Witness has been collecting and verifying multiple pieces of footage taken of events in North Okkalapa on March 3 to piece together a detailed reconstruction of events on that day.

Notes on Methodology

Myanmar Witness ensures all information collected is preserved, verified, analysed, investigated and reported on in a manner consistent with best practices for human rights evidence safekeeping, and reliance for later judicial use. The diagram below illustrates this methodology

Myanmar Witness applies a four-tier classification system to describe the extent to which footage has been independently verified by Myanmar Witness. This has recently been updated to provide greater clarity on differences between categories and is as follows:

Fully verified: Footage independently geolocated and chronolocated by Myanmar Witness.

Verified: Footage has been geolocated by Myanmar Witness. Other sources concur on the time and date of the footage, with no evidence following to suggest that the footage was taken earlier or later. However, it has not been possible for Myanmar Witness to independently chrono-locate the footage.

Unverified / Under investigation: Myanmar Witness has not been able to geolocate or chronolocate footage at the present time.

Inauthentic: The geolocation and chronolocation process has shown the location or timing of the footage to be inaccurate.

For the avoidance of doubt, this verification system only refers to Myanmar Witness’ ability to independently geolocate or chronolocate footage. Incidents marked as unverified may still be substantiated by multiple eyewitness reports. Sources are cross-referenced in this report to indicate where this is the case.

This report contains a number of images showing how footage has been geolocated. In these images, white lines are used to represent the left and right arcs of vision. Coloured boxes are used to show how landmarks or distinguishing details in each piece of footage or data correspond with each other.

[Warning: Graphic] has been inserted ahead of links to sources which show graphic and distressing images of injured or dead persons.

Gender Analysis

The nature of the footage available makes it in general very difficult to distinguish the gender of persons affected by violence or detained in these incidents. Based on visual analysis of the footage of the protests, there appears to be both men and women in the crowd, but it not possible to make an accurate judgment on the proportion of men relative to women. Where we have been able to identify the gender of specific victims, this has been predominantly men, with the exception of one wounded women being carried around from the incident at 17.00.

Incident 1: Beating of a protestor, possible death (~1030)

A video posted on social media, shared extensively on the day, shows police beating a man on the ground (Twitter). Frontier Myanmar reported that police and 77 Light Infantry Division (LID) had broken up a protest at North Okkalapa Roundabout at around 1030. The post said the footage – 12 seconds long in this version - was taken by a reporter for Frontier Myanmar.

Figure 1: Screenshot of Frontier Myanmar post featuring 12-second video and claims about the incident

In the short clip, three police officers can be seen surrounding a man on the ground, who is wearing a light blue sarong or shorts with a white or light grey top. A fourth police officer is seen running into the frame and kicking the man in the head, before hitting him again in the head with a baton. The man does not respond to the hit or move, suggesting he is badly injured. A police officer then proceeds to drag the man towards the road.

There is limited information to geolocate the video in the short 12-second clip, however, a longer version of the same footage lasting 50 seconds can be found online (available on request). The clip starts a few seconds prior to the short version and shows the same sequence of events. The police officer seen dragging the man toward the road stops after a few feet, when the man can be seen to move his arm (00:19) from his side to onto his chest, indicating he is alive.

The police officer who kicked the man moves away out of shot to the left, while another police officer also appears from the right of frame and approaches the man. Four police then stand around the man – not delivering any additional blows – before two move to leave out of shot to the left. The two remaining police officers around the man appear to sit the man up, but he appears limp and unresponsive, propped up against the legs of one of the police officers. Another police officer appears from right of frame and the three appear to have a conversation before two begin to move away and the clip ends.

Figure 2: Zoomed screenshot (00:03) showing police officer hitting man on the ground, shortly after kicking him in the head (Twitter) Figure 3: Zoomed screenshot (00:11) showing man being dragged (Twitter) Figure 4: Zoomed screenshot (00:30) showing two policemen trying to sit the man up (Twitter)

Figure 5: Screenshot (00:01) providing wider view of buildings (on request), magnified above Importantly, at the very beginning of the clip the camera is zoomed out, giving a wider perspective of the building in the background, as well as a momentary glimpse of the building next door.

From the more complete view of the building and partial view of the building next door, it is possible to geolocate the video to Thudhamma Road, approximately 150m to the northeast of North Okkalapa roundabout – where the post claimed police and LID 77 had confronted protestors.

Figure 6: Image from Google Maps showing the KaungTet Education building (left) compared with zoomed screenshot from video (right)

The building to the left of frame is the KaungTet Education Centre (Facebook, Google Maps). Photographs on Google Maps and the organisation’s Facebook page give a clearer view of the building, as well as a limited view of the building next door – the building in the background of the video.

Figure 7: Screenshot from video on KaungTet Facebook Page showing curved balcony on building next door, consistent with the video of the man being beaten (Facebook)

The angle of the footage indicates it was taken from across the road, from Aya Bank. Images of Aya Bank available on Google Maps show the building has unusual bars across the balconies, in additional to balcony rails (Google Maps). These multiple bars are visible in the footage, confirming it was indeed shot from Aya Bank.

Figure 8 (above left): Photo of Aya Bank from Google showing bars in front of windows, visible in clip (Google Maps) Figure 9(right): Geolocation of the incident (16°53'45.6"N, 96°09'31.9"E)

No shadows are visible in the footage, making it difficult to independently chronolocate the time it was taken. The Frontier Myanmar post, which claimed the incident took place around 1030, was made at 1144 local time, which would account for a delay in filming and then posting the material conveyed from a journalist on the ground. However, it is not possible to provide a precise time of the incident. A news article on March 9 by Frontier Magazine covered the funerals of some of the deceased from North Okkalapa on 3 March (Frontier Myanmar). The article claims the man featured in the clip later died of his injuries. From reviewing social media posts and lists of the victims from the memorial march one month after the March 3 events (links available on request), only one person was described as having been beaten to death, a man named as U Tun Maung, who was buried on March 8. Photos of the funeral show severe injuries to the head (GRAPHIC: Twitter).

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