More than 384 people have been detained since the coup, the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, in a wave of mostly nightly arrests.
“While the international community is condemning the coup, Min Aung Hlaing is using every tool he has to instigate fears and instabilities,” activist Wai Hnin Pwint Thon from the UK-based rights group Burma Campaign UK said on Twitter, referring to the army chief.
‘Stop kidnapping people at night’
Many protesters in Yangon carried signs calling on authorities to “stop kidnapping people at night”.
Residents banded together late on Saturday to patrol streets in Yangon and the country’s second-largest city, Mandalay, fearing arrest raids as well as common crime after the junta ordered the release of thousands of prisoners.
In different neighbourhoods, groups of mostly young men banged on pots and pans to sound the alarm as they chased down what they believed to be suspicious characters.
Worries about criminal activity have soared since Friday, when the junta announced it would free 23,000 prisoners, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline” and would “please the public”.
Unverified pictures on social media have fuelled rumours that criminals are trying to stir unrest by setting fires or poisoning water supplies.
Tin Myint, a resident of Sanchaung township in Yangon, was among the crowds who detained a group of four people suspected of carrying out an attack in the neighbourhood.
“We think the military intends to cause violence with these criminals by infiltrating them into peaceful protests,” he said.
He cited pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, when the military was widely accused of releasing criminals into the population to stage attacks, later citing the unrest as a justification for extending their own power.
Three people in different parts of Yangon said they had seen drones hovering above the crowds. “It was flying up and down and filming the crowd chasing after thieves,” said 30-year-old Htet, who asked to be identified by only one name.
The government and army could not be reached for comment.
Also late on Saturday, the army reinstated a law requiring people to report overnight visitors to their homes, allowed security forces to detain suspects and search private property without court approval, and ordered the arrest of well-known backers of mass protests.
The coup has been denounced by Western countries, with the United States announcing some sanctions on the ruling generals and other countries also considering measures.
Burmese in Japan march in protest of military coup
The gathering in Tokyo on Sunday, which started in a park and trailed through busy streets thronged by police, was the latest in a series of protests in a nation that more than 33,000 Burmese have made their home.
“I don’t like the military government,” said Sum Lut Htu Ti, a restaurant worker who has lived in Japan for three decades.