New designation means anyone including journalists speaking to lawmakers and politicians ousted in a February coup can be subjected to charges under counter-terrorism laws.

Protesters holding up signs supporting the
Protesters holding up signs supporting the "People's Defence Force" set up by the shadow government of ousted Myanmar lawmakers to protect civilians during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei in handout photo taken and released by Dawei Watch on May 7, 2021. (AFP)

Myanmar's junta has labeled a shadow government of lawmakers and politicians ousted in a February coup and a people's defence force that is being set up to confront security forces as "terrorist" groups.

The government of national unity was established by elected legislators who were barred from taking their seats when the military seized power and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others.

The junta has previously accused them of treason, and the announcement on state TV on Saturday said they were being branded terrorists because of their participation in a civil disobedience movement — a popular revolt against the military takeover that has seen people taking to the streets daily despite the lethal use of force by authorities.

More than 700 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces since the February 1 coup, according to several detailed estimates.

The junta has said the death toll is about one-third of that, and that the use of lethal force was justified to end what it called rioting.

READ MORE: Myanmar enters fourth month under junta with bomb blasts, flash protests

Shadow government

Protesters continue to take to the streets daily, while a nationwide boycott by students and faculty as well as civil servants across various sectors has brought the country to a shuddering halt.

Meanwhile, a group of ousted lawmakers — many of them previously part of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party — have formed a shadow "National Unity Government" to undermine the junta.

On Wednesday, the NUG announced the formation of a so-called "people's defence force" to protect civilians facing violence from the military.

By Saturday night, state-run television announced that the NUG, its people's defence force, and an affiliated group known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) –– the Burmese word for parliament –– were now classified as "terrorist organisations."

"We ask the people not to... support terrorist actions, give aid to terrorist actions that threaten the people's security from the CRPH, NUG, and PDF," said the evening news broadcast.

READ MORE:Death toll rises in Myanmar's 'shake the world' protests

Sporadic bomb blasts

The announcement comes as sporadic bomb blasts go off more frequently across Myanmar, especially in commercial hub Yangon — which authorities have blamed on "instigators."

Previously, the junta had declared the CRPH and NUG as "unlawful associations," and said interacting with them would be akin to high treason.

But their new designation as a "terrorist organisation" means anyone speaking to them — including journalists — can be subjected to charges under counter-terrorism laws.

The Arakan Army — an insurgent group that had clashed with the military in conflict-wracked Rakhine state — held the designation last year, and a journalist who had interviewed a high-ranking representative was detained.

He faced terrorism charges, carrying penalties ranging from three years to life in prison.

While he was released not long after, the use of the counter-terrorism law against journalists sparked fears of a tightening noose around the country's embattled press.

READ MORE:Ousted Myanmar lawmaker among several dead in parcel bomb blast

Source: TRTWorld and agencies