Junta revokes passports of anti-coup activists in Singapore

Many only learned of the move when they tried to leave or return to the country.
By Tin Aung Khine for RFA Burmese
2023.10.30
Junta revokes passports of anti-coup activists in Singapore Myanmar nationals hold up their passports outside the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore, April 27, 2008.
Vivek Prakash/Reuters

Myanmar’s military regime has revoked the passports of anti-coup activists living in Singapore – an unprecedented move for the junta, which typically reserves such tactics for high-profile opposition leaders and members of the shadow government based abroad.

The move came with no prior warning and only applies to residents of Singapore, said sources who told RFA Burmese they learned that their passports had been invalidated when they tried to leave or return to the Asian financial hub in recent weeks. RFA was unaware of similar measures taken against Myanmar nationals in other countries and the number of passports nullified by the move was not immediately clear.

An estimated 300,000 Myanmar nationals live in Singapore, and members of the community have voiced some of the strongest opposition to the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat. The country is also home to expatriate junta supporters, who are rumored to operate businesses with substantial holdings there, although the claims could not be independently verified.

Myanmar nationals in Singapore told RFA they were caught off guard by the decision.

“When I arrived at the airport, officials said my passport was no longer valid, so I could not travel,” said Mae Kyaw Soe Nyunt, a Myanmar national who resides in the city-state. “I told them the passport had not expired yet, but they said that, even so, the number was no longer valid and could no longer be used … They said it was ordered by my [country’s] embassy.”

She said that she knows of at least “three or four other” Myanmar nationals in Singapore also had their passports invalidated. Those affected have permanent residence status in Singapore and have been able to remain there, although the move impacts their ability to travel.

Another person whose passport was revoked said that “more people than expected” were targeted by the move, although they could not provide an exact number.

“It’s a lot, according to the information that I received,” said the person, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. “There are people who have sent the list of names [of those who support the anti-junta movement] to the regime. Whether it is true or not, your passport will be revoked if your name is on the list.”

An activist in Singapore, who also declined to be named, said they asked about the situation at Myanmar’s Embassy and were told that staff there had received no order to revoke passports from the junta.

“There is a question as to whether the junta is directing [Singapore’s] immigration instead of directing its embassy,” said the activist. “Currently, some people are able to renew their passports at the embassy, so they must not be on the blacklist.”

Lodging complaints with police

RFA has received reports that the junta is not only taking action against Myanmar activists, but also lodging complaints about them to Singapore’s police, based on tips from informants.

May Kyaw Soe Nyunt, who had her passport revoked, said that she was questioned by the police after she sold raffle tickets to fund Myanmar’s armed resistance out of her shop.

“They said they didn’t want the situation to blow up out of proportion, but they also expressed sympathy for the suffering of Myanmar’s people,” she said. “I apologized and the case was over.”

RFA attempted to contact Aung Ko Ko, the director general of the junta’s ministry of foreign affairs, for comment on the revocation of passports, but was told he was in a meeting.

A third person whose passport was revoked told RFA that the junta’s crackdown on Myanmar activists was aimed at “instilling fear,” but said that those who are being persecuted “will not back down.”

“They are trying to destroy our lives in various ways,” the person said. “Because of their actions, the strength [of the anti-regime movement] may be lessened. But it won’t stop people’s support for the movement.”

Most Myanmar nationals living in Singapore are residents with legal work permits or possess permanent residence permits. The country is also home to former Myanmar nationals who have become citizens of Singapore through permanent residency.

Members of sizable Myanmar expatriate communities in other countries – including Thailand, South Korea and Japan – have said they were not affected by the move.

In Dec. 2021, Myanmar’s junta started revoking the passports and citizenship of members of the shadow National Unity Government and high-profile opposition leaders in what critics have called a form of political revenge.

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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