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Myanmar: Arrests Mount as Protests Expand

Hundreds Detained Include Officials, Civil Servants, Doctors

Protesters raise three-finger salutes from inside a police vehicle after a being detained during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, February 9, 2021. © 2021 Kaung Zaw Hein/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

(Bangkok) – Myanmar’s military junta should immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release all those arbitrarily arrested since the military seized power on February 1, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. Detainees include political leaders, government officials, civil servants, activists, student leaders, and doctors, as well as anti-coup protesters.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP) reported on February 12 that at least 326 people had been arrested since the coup, with 303 still detained, although the number may be much higher. The vast majority of detainees are being held without charge.

“The Myanmar junta’s dragnet is rapidly expanding, so international pressure is urgently needed to gain the detainees’ immediate release,” said Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher. “The military is back to its old game of targeted arrests and arbitrary detentions in an attempt to instill widespread fear.”

On the night of February 10, the military-installed State Administration Council (SAC) accelerated arrests by taking into custody at least 23 chairmen and members of the Union Election Commission from all 14 regions and states. The military had sought to justify its takeover by making baseless allegations of voting irregularities in the November 2020 election.

The AAPP said that the police arrested a National League for Democracy (NLD) legal adviser, Kyaw Hoe, and the chief minister of the Shan State government, Dr. Linn Htut, without charges. The authorities also arrested Hla Thein, the Union Election Commission chairman, on the first day of the coup, when they detained the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and President Win Myint.

Nighttime arrests continued on February 11, and included the prominent lawyer Myo Aung in Myawaddy township, Karen State. Medical workers also reported the arrest and detention of doctors during the day and at night. CCTV footage shared on social media shows armed police forcibly taking away Dr. Pyae Phyo Naing from a clinic in Ingapu township, Irrawaddy Division. His colleague told Human Rights Watch that the police did not present an arrest warrant and that he believed the doctor was targeted for his involvement in anti-coup protests.

On February 12, several hundred thousand people joined the seventh day straight of anti-coup protests. Tensions have risen between protesters and the authorities after police used lethal force on February 9 in the capital, Naypyidaw, shooting Mya Thwe Thwe Khine, a protester, in the head with live ammunition. Riot police arrested 14 student protesters in Mawlamyine, Mon State, the Irrawaddy news outlet reported. The arrests came after police fired on protesters at 8:30 a.m. near Mawlamyine University, and injuring three people, according to a Myanmar Red Cross officer.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association, is arbitrary. 

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said that detention is also arbitrary when the detaining authority fails to observe the norms related to the right to due process, including for a prompt hearing before a judge following the initial detention. Principle 11 of the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states that a detainee must be “given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority,” and that a judicial or other authority should be empowered to review the decision to continue detention.

“Myanmar’s human rights crisis has garnered the world’s attention and demands for the escalating arrests and violence against peaceful protesters to stop,” Maung said. “UN member countries should take unified action in response to the UN secretary-general’s call to press Myanmar’s generals to restore the elected government to power.”

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