In Myanmar Junta’s Bid to Quell Opponents, Not Even Their Babies Are Spared

By The Irrawaddy 29 June 2021

No laughing family members gathered around. No blowing out the candles with friends. No cake. This was how one of Myanmar’s youngest political detainees, Su Htet Wyne, spent her fifth birthday on Monday, in the regime’s custody.

She was arrested together with her mother and sister on June 13 because her father was an anti-regime protest leader in Mogoke, Mandalay Region. Junta soldiers took the three as hostages after failing to find Ko Soe Htay at their home on the day.

Ko Soe Htay, a protest leader in Mogoke, Mandalay Region / Soe Htay / Facebook

A warrant was issued for the father on an incitement charge for organizing anti-regime protests. When the junta forces came to arrest him, he and his two sons were not at home, as they had gone into hiding.

“As they couldn’t find me, they arrested my daughters, including a minor, and my wife,” Ko Soe Htay told The Irrawaddy.

“Today is my daughter’s birthday,” he said.

It has been more than two weeks since the arrests. Relatives have had no contact with Ko Soe Htay’s wife and two daughters since the arrests and have not been allowed to see them. The three were not allowed to take anything with them, according to the father.

Regime forces post an arrest warrant on the home of Ko Soe Htay on June 13. / CJ

The case of Su Htet Wyne, her mother and sister is just one example of the Myanmar junta’s increasingly common tactic of detaining family members, relatives and friends and holding them as bait in an effort to lure pro-democracy activists to come out of hiding and turn themselves in.

Su Htet Wyne, her mother and sister are among at least 91 people who have been taken away by junta forces during raids that failed to turn up targeted individuals. These targets have included protesters, student union members, National League for Democracy (NLD) members, journalists and striking civil servants, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and local media.

On May 5, the 20-day-old baby and the wife of Ko Than Win, a protest leader in Mudon, Mon State, were arrested as hostages. A month earlier, on April 5, junta forces detained five relatives of strike leader Ko Ja Lay, including two girls aged 2 and 4. In both cases, the family members were released later the same day.

Regime forces detained the family of Bago Region National League for Democracy information officer Ko Ja Lay, including three young children, after failing to arrest him.

However, 62 of the 91 junta hostages remain in detention. Among them are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, siblings, nephews, nieces and other relatives of wanted opponents of the coup.

The mother of Judge U Kaung Myat Thu from the Chaung-U Township Court in Sagaing Region was beaten and arrested on April 27 and remains in detention.

The mother of Judge U Kaung Myat Thu from the Chaung-U Township Court in Sagaing Region / Kaung Myat Thu / Facebook

On April 22, junta forces searching for Pu Do Sian Pau, a member of the opposition Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), arrested his mother and his 70-year-old father, a retired pastor of the Cope Memorial Baptist Church in Tedim, Chin State. Both are still in detention.

Daw Mi Nge, the mother of activist sons Ko Tin Htut Paing and his brother, was beaten and arrested after junta forces unsuccessfully searched for the two in Yangon’s North Okkalapa Township. During the search for the activists, their 90-year-old grandmother was also beaten.

Activist Ko Tin Htut Paing and his mother in an undated photo

The mother was interrogated for several days before being moved to Insein Prison, and later sentenced to three years for incitement under Article 505(a).

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently called on the junta to immediately and unconditionally release all those wrongfully held and to end all collective punishment.

The arrest of family members and friends is intended to send a chilling message to activists and members of the CDM that no members of their families are safe, the New York-based international human rights watchdog said in a statement on June 14.

“The detention of people based solely on their relationship to another person is a form of collective punishment, which violates the right to liberty and security of person and the right to a fair trial,” HRW stated.

“Myanmar’s junta has taken unlawful detention to a noxious new level by detaining those close to people who themselves should not be facing arrest,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, was quoted as saying in the statement.

“Concerned governments should urgently impose targeted sanctions and a global arms embargo or expect the junta to continue to raise the stakes on abusive actions,” he said.

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