(Reuters) – Struggling to crush the two-month old protest movement against a coup, Myanmar’s military rulers are cracking down on the country’s best-known actors and 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 had spoken out against the coup, on Thursday, his sister told Reuters. He was taken away and his current whereabouts are unknown.
Legendary actor-director Lu Min, who has starred 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 was previously arrested in 2008 by the junta and freed in 2011.
Calls to a spokesman for the junta were not answered.
More than 600 people have been killed in the junta’s crackdown on street protests, according to a tally by an activist group. Besides the arrests, the military has also issued arrest warrants against more than 100 actors, singers, artists and other personalities who are known to be social media influencers.
Paing Takhon took an active part in the protests, according to pictures on his fanpage that 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 said he was on the frontlines.
“He is not only (an) actor, model and singer but also our hero now,” one fan wrote on the page. “While they were shooting with real bullets, he ran with us and didn’t give up. He asked his friend at the end of video ‘Where shall we go next?'”
The actor’s sister, Thi Thi Lwin, told Reuters the military detained her brother at 4.30 a.m. at their parents’ home in Yangon, where he had been staying for several days while unwell.
Myanmar has a thriving homegrown arts and entertainment scene. Much of the theatre and music is rooted in traditional themes, but Burmese-language cover versions of Asian and Western pop songs are also hugely popular and young Myanmar singers and actors have big followings.
Khin Myat Myat Naing, a travel blogger with more than 750,000 followers who is on the arrest warrant list, said authorities were worried about posts supporting the civil disobedience movement and the ousted civilian government.
“I will run and will do my best until the end for those who were arrested,” she said in a message on her Facebook page.
Others on the list of people charged under Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s penal code include the actor couple Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Pyay Ti Oo, and the singers Tu Tu, Chit Thu Wai, and Athen Cho Swe.
The section seeks to punish anyone who “makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report” that could cause a member of the military to mutiny. Anyone convicted under the offence can be imprisoned for up to two years.
Pyay Ti Oo, Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Paing Takhon are the highest paid actors and models in Myanmar.
A representative of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said the junta’s aims were obvious.
“A social influencer or a celebrity’s posts are more effective than the posts of hundreds or a thousand normal people,” said the representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Another reason is they want to give a message to the people that they have even charged famous celebrities.”
But he added: “People will not step back as they arrest the celebrities. Only hatred will grow toward the junta.”
(Reporting by Reuters staff, writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)