In Person

Fiancée Opens Up About Detained Irrawaddy Reporter

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 30 June 2017

YANGON — The sudden arrest of her fiancé by the Myanmar Army shattered Loa Htaw’s dreams. Before Monday—when the Tatmadaw arrested Irrawaddy senior reporter Lawi Weng, also known as U Thein Zaw, on his return from a reporting trip in northern Shan State—the 33-year old Mon woman was thinking about the wedding ring that Lawi had promised to purchase for her ahead of their nuptials in November.

Loa Htaw had recently bought fabric for the traditional Mon clothing that they would both wear for the big day. They had agreed to spend their married life together in Yangon and Mon State. It would mark an end to five years of long-distance love, with Lawi based in Yangon since 2012 and Lao Htaw in Thailand studying for her master’s degree in Global Communication Studies at a university in Bangkok.

“I dreamt of building a very peaceful family with him after we were married. I want to have a son. We would go to monasteries and pagodas together,” Lawi’s fiancée told The Irrawaddy five days after his arrest.

Currently, her partner is in prison, along with two other reporters form the Democratic Voice of Burma, in Hsipaw, a provincial town in northern Shan State. The reporters are charged with violating the Unlawful Associations Act, with the Myanmar Army accusing them of connections with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), a group labeled as “terrorists” by the Shan State parliament.

The reporters had covered the TNLA’s drug burning ceremony on Monday to mark the UN’s International Day against Drug Abuse and were detained shortly after. In the wake of the arrest, The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Phyo Tha had a conversation with Loa Htaw detailing her reaction to the arrest, her expectations and requests for her boyfriend’s freedom and about Lawi Weng as a person as well.

What are your reactions to Lawi’s arrest?

I have never thought he would go through something like this. We are unprepared to have that kind of situation, and when it happened I had no idea how to deal with it. But I really want to talk to him to ask what I can do for his release.

What do you mean by being ‘unprepared?’

He didn’t seem to think that he would face restrictions on the media under the new [National League for Democracy] government or by the military as well. So he sticks to reporting the truth and what he witnesses, and doesn’t seem to worry about his own safety or wellbeing. Sometimes I worried about him while reading his stories, as most of them are about fighting between government troops and ethnic armed groups and the situations in conflict areas. When I raised my concerns to him, he just replied, ‘No worries. We are now under a democratic government.’

Do you have any requests to make regarding his release?

 I want to make a request here to anyone concerned: Please release him. He is an innocent man who did his job as a journalist. As he mostly writes about conflict, it’s natural that he needs to talk to his sources, whoever they are. If not, how can he write stories without verification? He needs to see what is happening out there as well. I believe 100 percent that he is innocent.

What are your worries at the moment?

I am worried he was forced by the army to confess before they handed him to the police. I don’t want him spend time in jail. Based on my 17 years of experience knowing him, I swear he is not a guy who would do something bad. If he has to spend more time in jail, I’m afraid it will have impacts on his health—both physically and mentally. Plus, as he is an ethnic Mon, I’m worried that he wouldn’t be seen as speaking properly at the court hearing, because his Burmese is not that good in that kind of situation, despite his knowledge of the language.

When did you two last talk?

I received a message about his safe arrival in Lashio at around 10 p.m. on Saturday. We talked on Friday night before his trip. I complained to him about his frequent travels. He said, ‘I want to go there.’ When I learned about his arrest on Monday afternoon, I called his phone but there was no answer, and then it was switched off.

How would you describe Lawi Weng’s character?

 As a very caring person. Whenever he got back from trips, he always brought something for me. He said he had bought a piece of amber from his recent trip in Kachin State, to make me a pendant for a necklace. I haven’t seen it yet as we didn’t have a chance to meet. He is someone who knows me very well. As he is older than me, he is also like a brother who never fails to give me guidance or assistance when I am in need. I feel secure when I am with him.

What will you do now?

I will have to wait for his release. After my dad, he is the man who I respect, love and trust most in my life. I used to tease him, by asking which side he was on: journalism or me. But he never answered. I won’t even mind, if he no longer needs me after his release.