YANGON—Arakanese social activist and university student Aung Zaw Lin, also known as Aung Chay, was arrested by Sittwe police at around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday as he and two colleagues were returning home from Sittwe University on a motorcycle.
A friend of the suspect who witnessed the arrest told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity that a fully armed group of police led by a police second lieutenant were waiting for Aung Zaw Lin on a roadside. He said the students had just completed their final day of university exams on Tuesday. As they were riding home they saw a police truck and initially thought it was a traffic police checkpoint. However, the second lieutenant walked straight up to them and handcuffed Aung Zaw Lin, the friend said.
Police took the suspect directly into custody. Aung Zaw Lin’s two friends asked police why he was being detained but did not receive a clear answer. Asked why only one of the three was being detained, one of the police officers told them they should “think about it”.
The friend said, “A police officer just briefly told me we could discuss it at the police station.”
Aung Zaw Lin was taken to Sittwe’s No. 1 Police Station. The Irrawaddy phoned officer Moe Zaw Thu, the chief of the station, but he declined to answer and referred questions to an inspector at Sittwe’s No. 2 police station.
“I have no idea about that. I am not the inspector in that case. The investigator is from No. 2 police station,” Moe Zaw Thu said.
The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the head of Sittwe’s No. 2 police station by phone on Tuesday, as his phone was switched off.
Authorities had not made any announcement about the arrest as of Tuesday evening, but some Sittwe residents speculated it was linked to the death of Military Intelligence Corporal Win Htike, also known as Phoe Lone, on Sept. 25. The corporal was shot in the back and killed while attending a festival in Sittwe with his wife and child.
The day after the killing, police summoned Aung Zaw Lin and another student, Khine Thaw, from Pauk Taw Township for questioning. They were released after a few hours. Aung Zaw Lin later told The Irrawaddy the police asked him whether he had close ties with Cpl. Win Htike.
A friend of Aung Zaw Lin said they were at home all day on Sept. 25, the day the intelligence officer was shot dead.
“I’m ready to testify on behalf of my friend in court. I’m absolutely sure he is innocent and has done nothing wrong,” he said.
The death of the Military Intelligence officer occurred on the same day the Sittwe Court re-arrested eight Arakanese just as they were completing their eight-month sentences for attending an illegal protest.
Alongside his senior, Wai Han Aung, Aung Zaw Lin has been actively engaged in relief efforts to support members of Arakanese sub-ethnicities affected by conflict in northern Rakhine State for several years. Among those he has helped were victims of conflict in Maungdaw District last year. Wai Han Aung was arrested without warning early this year and charged under the High Treason Act after authorities reportedly discovered he had unwittingly offered assistance to members of the Arakan Army (AA), an outlawed rebel group. He and prominent Arakanese politician U Aye Maung are now facing serious charges at Sittwe Court. Local media previously quoted Aung Zaw Lin as saying that police had questioned him about his ties to Wai Han Aung.
Cpl. Win Htike had been transferred to Yangon a few months prior to his death, but was temporarily returned to his family in Sittwe last month after he leaked via his Facebook account in April a false report that seven soldiers involved in the Inn Din massacre of 10 Rohingya villagers had been freed in a New Year’s presidential amnesty.
The false information was reported by Myanmar National Television (MNTV) and quickly went viral on Facebook. Even the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, recklessly re-tweeted a false news report repeating the claim via her Twitter account. She later issued a letter of apology. Before Cpl. Win Htike was killed, he was publicly threatened on Facebook and some Arakanese even vowed to kill him as soon as possible.
As of Tuesday, the Home Affairs Ministry’s official Facebook page carried no information on Aung Zaw Lin’s arrest.