Pro-Democracy Brother of Myanmar Junta’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister Dies in Military Custody

His wife said the two brothers hadn’t spoken to each other in years.
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Pro-Democracy Brother of Myanmar Junta’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister Dies in Military Custody A slogan is written on a street as a protest after the coup in Yangon, Myanmar February 21, 2021.

The pro-democracy activist brother of a high-ranking official in Myanmar’s military junta died under suspicious circumstances while in custody of the junta’s security forces this week, their family told RFA.

Soe Moe Hlaing, 55, also known by his alias Mae Gyi, was the younger brother of Lt. Gen Than Hlaing, who was appointed the country’s chief of police and deputy home affairs minister on Feb. 2, one day after the military ousted the country’s democratically elected government and seized control.

Authorities arrested Soe Moe Hlaing and eight others on May 22 in the central city of Bago for running a charity school. Two days later, his family received a notice to retrieve his body.

His wife, Myat Muyar Win, told RFA’s Myanmar Service Tuesday that the military planned to cremate his remains at Mingaladon War Cemetery that day.

“We didn’t have to see or do much. It was as if we were attending a funeral they were holding. We wanted to take his body back to Yangon but they refused. We asked them to postpone the funeral for a day, but they refused that, too. We are on our way to Mingaladon right now,” she said.

Local outlet Myanmar Now quoted Myat Muyar Win as saying a regime official told her that he died of “some disease,” but she asserted that her husband was healthy. She also said that she heard reports that the 901st Artillery Operations Command beat Soe Moe Hlaing with the butt of a gun during his arrest. Than Hlaing reportedly went to see the body at the cemetery prior to the cremation.

In the report, Myat Muyar Win said the brothers had not seen each other in many years and they never contacted each other.

RFA attempted to contact the junta’s spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun but he was not available for comment.

Soe Moe Hlaing, an honors chemistry student at Yangon University, was active in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. After the 1988 coup he joined and served as a battalion commander in the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), a pro-democracy armed group.

After returning home in 1991, the previous junta arrested him and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the ABSDF. He spent 10 years in Insein and Thayarwaddy prisons. Since his release, he had dedicated his life to charity work.

After Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in the 2015 elections, Soe Moe Hlaing founded a community-based tourism network for local development, leading the development of the Zalon Taung Pagoda, a religious facility on a scenic mountaintop in the northwestern Sagaing region.

Over the past few years, he established and taught at the Winkabaw Ex-Political Prisoner Education Network, which has a mission to educate family members of political prisoners.

“Even though his brother had a high position in the military, he never took advantage of that,” a friend of Soe Moe Hlaing told RFA on condition of anonymity.

“The local military authorities in Bago did not know he was related to the sitting deputy home affairs minister during his arrest or detention,” Soe Moe Hlaing’s friend said.

According to Myanmar Now, the two brothers have nine other siblings. The invitation for Soe Moe Hlaing’s memorial service mentioned his ties to Deputy Minister Than Hlaing, and said he was survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 21 people, including two women, have died since the coup after being arrested and tortured at interrogation camps.  

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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