On Sunday, the authorities in Myanmar began their most violent crackdown to date on protesters who have been massing in the streets for weeks in opposition to the military’s Feb. 1 coup.
The violence against the unarmed and mostly peaceful protesters left 18 dead and more than 30 wounded, according to the United Nations’ human rights office, and took place across the country, including in the central city of Mandalay, Dawei in the southeast and Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. The crackdown has continued in recent days, with nearly 40 killed by security forces, including 13 on Wednesday.
Unlike previous conflicts in Myanmar, the post-coup crackdown has been “carried out in front of thousands of phones and cameras,” enabling the real-time documentation of extreme violence committed by the authorities, said Richard Weir, a Human Rights Watch researcher previously based in Myanmar.
Much of the violence on Wednesday was captured by shaky videos recorded on mobile phones, with the screams of protesters punctuated by the crack of live ammunition. Young protesters in hard hats and face masks worn for coronavirus protection scrambled to avoid security forces, who at times seemed to shoot at random.
The New York Times reviewed dozens of such videos, which show both soldiers and police officers using a variety of weapons, including shotguns, flash bangs, tear gas grenade launchers and rifles. In at least two episodes we tracked, footage captured civilians suffering from what appeared to be fatal gunshot wounds. Photographs also show that at least one of the units implicated in the genocidal campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority appears to have been involved in the crackdown.
Here’s what we know from the visual evidence.
A fatal shooting in Yangon
One of the most violent episodes on Sunday occurred in Yangon near Hledan Junction, which has become a regular gathering point for protesters.
At around 8:30 a.m., the Mizzima TV news organization filmed police officers advancing west on Hledan Road.
They are seen firing riot guns and pump-action shotguns, which are capable of firing both lethal and less-lethal munitions.
A video from the Myanmar-based News Watch shows protesters running toward a high school as they flee from the officers who are continuing to move toward them.
Amid flash bangs and the sound of gunfire, some of the protesters are carrying the limp body of someone who appears to have been injured.
In a video captured by the local news agency Myanmar Now, another protester lies motionless outside the gate of the high school and begins to bleed from his midsection.
Some stop to try to save the wounded man. They carry him away.
Dr. Rohini Haar, a medical adviser with Physicians for Human Rights, reviewed other images of the man’s body for The Times. Dr. Haar said that the man’s injury appeared to be consistent with a gunshot wound from live ammunition.
The man, who later died, was identified by family members as Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing. He had posted “#How_Many_Dead_Bodies_UN_Need_To_Take_Action” on his Facebook page the night before.
Rounding up medical workers
Around the same time elsewhere in Yangon, in Yankin Township, video shows doctors and medical students wearing their white coats also peacefully protesting.
The police aim a mix of firearms in the direction of the crowd, including some that appear to be BA-63 rifles, which can be loaded with lethal ammunition or with blank rounds for scaring off crowds. They also fire a shotgun.
Just down the road, protesters are seen fleeing amid flash bangs.
Some seek refuge down a side street.
But officers there herd protesters into a parking lot and load them into police vehicles.
A notorious unit in Mandalay
In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, one protester was shot in the head through his motorcycle helmet.
U Si Thu, a doctor and protester, told The Times that the man, U Maung Maung Oo, had been fleeing the police and soldiers who had been trying to prevent protesters from gathering. Two other protesters were wounded, the doctor said.
Graphic videos show civilians trying to rescue the man and carry him to an ambulance.
Dr. Haar told The Times that because the man was wearing the helmet, his severe injury could not have been caused by a less lethal munition like a rubber bullet.
Several blocks away, security forces confronting protesters in Theik Pan Street were filmed firing tear gas onto the grounds of City Hospital.
Soldiers photographed firing a tear gas grenade launcher onto the hospital grounds and helping the police make arrests wore insignia that Mr. Weir from Human Rights Watch said appeared to be from Myanmar’s 33rd Light Infantry Division.
The 33rd Light Infantry Division has previously been implicated in what the United Nations has described as the government’s genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Firing into crowds
In the southern city of Dawei, the police opened fire on a crowd of hundreds, witnesses said. At least three people were killed and more than 50 were wounded, said Dr. Tun Min, who was treating the injured at a hospital.
One video shows police officers loading a weapon resembling a BA-63 rifle and then taking turns shooting it.
Mizzima TV filmed multiple bodies being taken into a hospital in the city.
In Myaynigone, a neighborhood in Yangon, another video shows police officers firing pump-action shotguns, which can be loaded with lethal or less-lethal ammunition. The video was filmed a few hundred feet from another video showing protesters gathered in the street before being dispersed by tear gas and flash bangs.
One of the officers, who is carrying a pouch, appears to pick up the spent shotgun shells, which protesters have been photographing to prove what ammunition was being used.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group based in Thailand and Myanmar, around 30 people have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup and more than 1,200 arrested.
“The streets have become like combat zones,” the association wrote on Monday. “The purpose of all this has been to create fear and compliance to the military.”
The military junta now running the country has made it clear that it has no intention of backing down, and has said that “protesters are now inciting the people to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.”
Logan Mitchell contributed reporting. Additional production by Arielle Ray and Drew Jordan.