Malaysian investigators seek public’s help finding missing Myanmar activist, family

Police circulated photos of Thuzar Maung, husband and children via Facebook.
By Iman Muttaqin Yusof for BenarNews
Malaysian investigators seek public’s help finding missing Myanmar activist, family Thuzar Maung, a Malaysia-based refugee from Myanmar, gives a talk in Kuala Lumpur, in a photo posted on her Facebook page, March 9, 2023.
Thu Zar Moung

Updated at 4:20 p.m. EDT on 2023-08-04

Malaysian police have posted photos of a missing Myanmar democracy activist and her family online to ask the public to help in finding the five who, human rights advocates allege, were kidnapped from their Kuala Lumpur home a month ago. 

Police said they were investigating it as a missing persons case but had no updates on activist Thuzar Maung and her family, who are U.N. refugee-card holders, while Human Rights Watch criticized the police for not circulating the photographs to the public sooner. 

“Our focus remains on areas where the missing individuals could possibly be,” Selangor Police Chief Hussein Omar Khan told BenarNews on Friday.

The chief said police had recorded statements from 20 people, including neighbors, acquaintances and members of the Myanmar refugee community. 

“But, no significant developments at this point in time,” he said.

Late Thursday, Ampang district police posted photographs of the family on its Facebook page.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, urged the Malaysian police to investigate all possible angles that led to the disappearance as he criticized the delay in seeking assistance from the public.

“It’s about time the Malaysian police started investigating this case seriously. Releasing the photo of the family and their vehicle is something that should have been done weeks ago,” Robertson told BenarNews on Friday. 

“All possibilities need to be explored, including who could have pulled off such a professionally conducted abduction that moved so quickly and efficiently to spirit Thuzar Maung, her husband, three children and the two family cars away.”

Robertson said police must investigate the motives behind Thuzar’s abduction, considering her support for the shadow and civilian National Unity Government, which comprises former elected Myanmar legislators and junta opponents. 

“How this operation was conducted should be an important clue since the abilities demonstrated seem well beyond what ordinary Malaysians could do,” Robertson said. 

In a news release issued last month, HRW said that unidentified men abducted Thuzar Maung, 46, her husband Saw Than Tin Win, 43, their 16-year-old daughter and two sons aged 17 and 21, on July 4 from their Kuala Lumpur residence, citing witness accounts and CCTV footage.

“The footage showed a car entering their gated community on the said date, with the driver claiming to be the police. Later that evening, the same car and two cars belonging to the family were seen leaving the compound,” HRW said. 

“Thuzar’s colleagues who entered the house on July 5 said there were no signs of robbery,” HRW said.

Ko Thet, a Malaysia-based Burmese volunteer with the Lovely Heart Charity group, said fellow activists were "out of clues" about what happened to Thuzar, who he said had helped Myanmar nationals on labor issues and was active in a Muslim organization.

"Her colleagues didn't hear anything. I don't understand why," he told Radio Free Asia.

James Bawi, a refugee and activist with the Chin community – a mostly Christian ethnic group –  said he had met recently with the Malaysia Home Ministry’s press secretary and urged the ministry to initiate investigations into the disappearances.

“He [the press secretary] has promised to provide updates on the disappearance of Thuzar Maung and her family,” he said. 

The Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia’s foreign and home affairs ministers did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment.

In Malaysia, Thuzar heads the Myanmar Muslim Refugee Community and has been a staunch critic of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s junta, which toppled the elected Myanmar government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup in February 2021.

She fled to Malaysia from Mandalay to escape growing violence against Muslims. Thuzar and her family members hold refugee cards issued by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

"Her sudden disappearance demonstrates that the lives of (Myanmar) human rights campaigners (and) women’s rights campaigners are not safe, not only in Myanmar but also in foreign countries," said Aung Kyaw Moe, Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government's spokesman. He urged Myanmar's neighbors to provide adequate security for exiled  rights activists.

Updated with reaction.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.


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