No Holds Barred: Myanmar Junta Grabs Family Members to Get at Wanted Protesters

One critic likened the hostage-taking tactic to “the work of a terror gang."
No Holds Barred: Myanmar Junta Grabs Family Members to Get at Wanted Protesters Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger salute of defiance during a demonstration in Yangon, May 6, 2021,

Facing unrelenting popular resistance to military rule three months after they ousted the elected government , Myanmar’s junta has increasingly turned to hostage taking – grabbing family members to force wanted opponents to surrender, legal experts and rights activists said Thursday. 

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, a Thailand-based NGO that has tracked more than 770 killings of civilians and more than 3,700 arrests since the Feb. 1 army takeover, has also document 40 people who have been taken hostage by the military to get at opponent of the junta or supporters of the shadow government.

The well-known film actor couple Pyay Ti Oo and his wife Aindra Kyaw Zin are now in detention at Shwe Pyi Tha Interrogation camp, charged with incitement under Section 50(a) of the Penal Code, after turning themselves in to protect their children, a friend told RFA.

“They (police and soldiers) asked the family to call them back. They threatened to arrest the children and family if they don't show up,” said a source close to the couple.

Families of members of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of work stoppages by professionals including teachers, civil servants, bankers and doctors are a major target, as are relatives of supporters of the new National Unity Government (NUG), made up of ousted lawmakers and ethnic minority leaders.

In the Mandalay region of central Myanmar, the military and police raided the home of a schoolteacher involved in the anti-military movement and arrested her mother and younger brother, a second bother said.

"She is a school teacher who had joined the CDM. About 40 soldiers and police raided the house one day without any arrest warrant being issued. And our mother and brother were arrested because they could not find her,” he told RFA.

Soldiers also searched the home of Yan Naing Lin, an electrician in the Bago Division of central Myanmar, seizing his wife, mother and brother without releasing them for about three weeks, he said from hiding.

"I haven’t been able to contact them since April 15th. I can’t find out where they are detained. Their main thing is to get me. I don’t know whether they will release my family or not if I surrender,” Yan Naing Lin told RFA.

Illegal everywhere

The military has accused him of making a hand grenade, he said, adding that he is unable to produce evidence to support his innocence and he isn’t sure his family would be released even if he cooperates.

According to local media reports, incidents of hostage-taking have become more frequent, with most of those detained to force the surrender of a wanted relative remaining in custody.

Khin Maung Zaw, one of the lawyers for deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said the tactic is illegal everywhere.

"In every country, the law permits action to be taken only against the perpetrator and no one else can be prosecuted in his place,” he told RFA.

Taking hostages to pursue suspects “is not the action of an organization that works with a constitution and existing laws," said journalist Si Thu Aung Myint

“It is more like the work of a terror gang," he said.

The brutal crackdown on anyone who has been involved in anti-government protests has driven many demonstrators and NUG supporters into hiding. 

"Ever since we decided to join the CDM, we have considered the consequences,” said a doctor in Mandalay, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We knew we could lose our jobs, our licenses could be revoked, and we might have to go to jail. We might even get killed. But we never thought our children, our families would be harmed. This is worrisome.”

Security forces walk past shops as they search for protesters, who were taking part in a demonstration against the military coup, in downtown Yangon, May 6, 2021. Credit: AFP

Hindu, Chinese woman killed

The military's actions transcend simple human rights abuses, said Nicky Diamond, of the NGO Fortify Rights.

"Not only are they violating human rights. Their actions are so vicious that they are violating the obligations of the military to protect the people of the country,” he told RFA.

RFA tried to contact Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun to ask about the allegations but reporters phone calls to the junta spokesman went unanswered.

The family of Aung Khaing Myint, 33, were told Wednesday to inspect his body, they told RFA.

“We saw his body at the 1,000 bed hospital in Shwedaung. They said he was arrested in connection with the bombing of Innwa Bank in Sagaing and that he had died after jumping out of the car following the arrest,” said a relative.

“They didn’t show us the whole body – just the face – and we saw beating marks on his cheeks and throat and bruises on his chin,” the family member said.

“We are Hindus and told them we need to hold our religious rites but they refuse to give the body back,” added the bereaved family member.

In Mandalay, junta soldiers shot two ethnic Chinese Myanmar nationals who were coming home after getting coronavirus vaccinations at a local hospital, killing one and wounding the other, said witness.

“A passing motorcyclist was showing a three-finger salute and the soldiers fired four shots at him but instead hit the Chinese couple on another motorcycle,” the source said.

“The woman was hit in the face and died on the spot but the guy who got hit near the jawline was taken for medical treatment to Nandwin hospital.  The woman’s body was taken to Chinese Yunnan Temple after an autopsy,” said the witness.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.


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