Family Worried Over Soldier Held After Signing NLD Charter Petition

By Sanay Lin 27 November 2014

RANGOON — The family of an army officer facing a military tribunal, allegedly for signing a petition in favor of amending Burma’s Constitution, remains unable to see him nearly eight months after he was detained.

Maj. Kyaw Swar Win has been in military custody since early April after he was photographed signing what appears to be a pro-amendment petition circulated by the National League for Democracy (NLD) party. A military court is handling the case and it is believed that a verdict is pending “instructions from above,” people close to the defendant’s family suggested.

“He is still in military prison. None of his family members are allowed to see him. We heard he is in good health, however,” said a man close to the defendant’s family on condition of anonymity.

“Since his arrest made headlines, no one has been allowed to see him until now. According to military law, the maximum detention period is six months and it is likely that he will be given some punishment in the next month at the instruction of higher-ups,” he added.

Dressed in his military uniform, the major is pictured with pen in hand at a table in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Division, where campaigners were collecting signatures for the constitutional amendment petition. He was arrested the same day.

A family member of Kyaw Swar Win said: “He signed the petition at the request of his friend who is an NLD member, in front of the Pyin Oo Lwin market. He did not know exactly what the petition was, but then his photo went viral on the Internet and he was summoned by the military immediately and put in prison.”

The petition by the NLD, which garnered nearly 5 million signatures nationwide, calls for changing the 2008 Constitution’s Article 436, a provision that gives military members of Parliament an effective veto over amendments to most of the charter.

Kyaw Swar Win is a graduate of the second intake of the Defense Services Technological Academy. He had been assigned to an engineering unit in Pyin Oo Lwin when he was arrested in April.

“The military spread news that he was arrested because he released a corporal who deserted from his unit as troop commander in Arakan State, but in fact, he was charged for signing the charter amendment petition. Disciplinary action had already been taken against him for that case in Arakan State in July last year,” said a family member of the major.

Though the military has denied that Kyaw Swar Win was arrested in connection with his signing of the petition, the interrogation focused on the incident captured in the viral photograph, according to a military man from Pyin Oo Lwin who did not want to be named. The major is believed to face the charge of “breach of military discipline,” he said.

Bo Kyi, a joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), said that like the family, his organization has not been able to contact the major.

“We don’t know the details about him, as we could not reach him since his arrest. If he was detained for signing the charter amendment petition, we would recognize him as a political prisoner,” Bo Kyi said, adding that Kyaw Swar Win was not yet on the AAPP’s list of 27 political prisoners who remain behind bars.

Additional reporting by Nyein Nyein.