Burma

Junta Jails Myanmar’s COVID-19 Vaccine Chief for Protecting International Aid Money from Seizure

By The Irrawaddy 21 April 2022

Myanmar’s junta has sentenced Dr. Htar Htar Lin, who led Myanmar’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout under the ousted civilian government, to three years in prison with hard labor on corruption charges because she denied the regime international COVID-19 grants.

Junta-controlled newspapers reported on Thursday that the director of the national immunization program defied ministerial orders by returning a Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization’s Health System Strengthening grant of 168 million kyats (US$91,000) from Unicef and the World Health Organization on Feb. 10, 2021, shortly after the coup.

The return of the grant depleted governmental assets and she was found guilty under the Anti-Corruption Law, the junta’s media reported.

Since June last year, the well-respected director was charged with three more charges, including high treason and incitement and under the Unlawful Association Act for allegedly assisting the civilian National Unity Government (NUG), which the junta has designated as a terrorist group. The charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

An arrest warrant was issued for Dr. Htar Htar Lin shortly after the coup and she was arrested in June last year in Yangon. Her seven-year-old son, husband, friend and her daughter were also detained at the same time. The regime raided her home and seized her belongings.

In early February last year, Dr. Htar Htar Lin emailed colleagues to say she would probably face accusations that she misused funds as the dictatorship would try to steal from the vaccination program.

The email said: “We can’t let military dictators use COVID vaccinations as a weapon. I may still be free or detained by the military when you read this. But I will never surrender.”

On Wednesday, the junta also sentenced Dr. Soe Oo, who chaired the external aid committee which was overseeing the COVID-19 grant, on the same corruption charges for failing to stop Dr. Htar Htar Lin from returning the grants. He was sentenced to two years with hard labor on Wednesday.

Both high-profile doctors refused to work under the regime and they took part in the civil disobedience movement (CDM) after the coup.

The CDM was launched by medics on Feb. 3 in protest against the coup and was followed by other government staff nationwide.

The junta said last year that Dr. Htar Htar Lin confessed to communicating with Dr. Zaw Wai Soe, the NUG’s health minister, through the applications Signal and Zoom. She helped write speeches and NUG health-care policy documents and helped prepare for Zoom meetings and plan to implement the NUG health-care programs, including estimating the required drugs and costs, the state media stated.

It made the same accusation against 26 other doctors, who it said had accepted NUG public health, health administration and clinical roles. Among those accused was Dr. Maung Maung Nyein Tun, 45, a lecturer at the Department of Surgery at the Mandalay University, who died in junta detention with COVID-19 in August last year.

According to Physicians for Human Rights, 286 health staff have been detained since the Feb. 1 coup. The junta had raided at least 128 clinics and hospitals and killed at least 30 health staff by Jan. 10, the group reported.

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