Three-fourths of NLD members arrested since Myanmar coup still detained, says party

National League for Democracy says military junta is trying to disband it ahead of planned elections in 2023.
2022.01.03
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Three-fourths of NLD members arrested since Myanmar coup still detained, says party Detained Myanmar State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw, May 24, 2021.
Myanmar's Ministry of Information via AFP

More than three-quarters of the members of Myanmar’s deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) arrested by the junta remain in detention more than 11 months after the military seized power, according to the party.

Since the Feb. 1 coup, junta security forces have arrested 649 NLD members, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint, the party said in a statement over the weekend. While some have been released, at least 489 are still being held in prisons throughout the country, it said, adding that the number could be much higher.

NLD Central Committee member Kyaw Htwe told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday that while the party’s top leaders and Cabinet members were arrested on the day of the putsch, several lawmakers and other party members were later detained while on the run.

“Most of the regular party members were later arrested under the pretext that they had taken part in anti-coup protests,” he said. “They were sent to interrogation camps, police detention centers and various prisons. Some are now under house arrest.”

The junta says voter fraud led to the NLD’s landslide victory in the country’s November 2020 election but has yet to provide evidence for its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide protests calling for a return to civilian rule, killing 1,398 people and arresting 8,376 in the 11 months since, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Most detainees from the NLD were charged for alleged crimes that carry heavy sentences, including rebellion, corruption, unlawful association and incitement.

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA that his government is “not targeting the party,” and that most NLD members who were arrested were involved with the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) or Parliament’s Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Committee of Representatives (CRPH).

“There are former parliamentarians who were elected in 2020,” he said. “Three-quarters of these MPs are living peacefully outside [of prison]. Only about a quarter of them were arrested because most were involved with NUG and CRPH.”

Zaw Min Tun said that the remaining three-quarters are “negotiating a solution for democracy,” adding that the junta has no intention of dissolving the party ahead of a planned general election in 2023 — a vote the NLD has said will be rigged if it proceeds under military rule.

‘Illegal’ arrests

The NLD has labeled the arrests of its party members “illegal” because they were carried out by what it says is an illegitimate regime.

“The Union Parliament has already said the arrests were illegal since the coup itself and [the military’s] actions are all illegal activities,” said Bo Bo Oo, a member of the NLD's Yangon Region Hluttaw. “So, if I were asked about the issue, I’d like to say that all charges against democracy activists under various sections since Feb. 1 are illegal.”

Political analyst Ye Tun said the junta should release any NLD members who were charged with “no valid reasons.”

“What I heard is that some of the allegations were baseless,” he said. “Some of the cases should be dropped and the accused should be freed. It depends on the virtue of the judges.”

According to the NLD, 92 members of Parliament remain in detention and at least one lawmaker died while in custody due to injuries sustained during an interrogation. The party claims that as many as 14 NLD members were killed during interrogations and imprisonment.

The NLD also reported at least 86 cases of vandalism on party offices in various states and townships including its headquarters in Yangon’s Bahan township.

One NLD member from Yangon who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity said that there is an ongoing crackdown against his party that has prevented members from participating in political activities and forced many to flee to escape arrest, regardless of the junta’s claims to the contrary.

“The junta’s main goal is to disband the party, so party members just need to be resilient,” he said. “As long as we are not arrested, we will continue to do what we need to do.”

Verdict next week

Also on Monday, a military court in the capital Naypyidaw ruled that the final verdict in the case against Aung San Suu Kyi will be heard on Jan. 10, according to sources close to the court.

The charges the NLD leader faces carry a maximum punishment of three years in prison and stem from her August 2020 visit to Zabuthiri township, which the court says resulted in a mass gathering in violation of COVID-19 pandemic regulations. Verdicts for her cases on charges of violating the country’s Import and Export Law and Telecommunications Law — which carry punishments of up to three years and one year — are also expected on the same day, said the sources, who declined to be named.

Last month, a military court sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison over incitement and breaches of COVID-19 laws, which junta chief Min Aung Hlaing reduced to two years of house arrest, in a ruling condemned by the U.S. The 76-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint received two years for incitement against the military and two years for violating coronavirus restrictions.

A junta court sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi’s bodyguard Cherry Htet to three years in prison on Dec. 30, according to people close to the court. A deputy police chief, Cherry was arrested in Naypyidaw in September for allegedly meeting an NLD MP to exchange photos of armed militias at the border, statements from the NUG, and video reports from overseas Burmese media. 

Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on 11 charges and the junta has said it plans to add two additional corruption cases against her over the purchase of a helicopter. She faces a total of more than 100 years in prison if handed the maximum sentence for all charges.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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