Myanmar Junta Detains Charity Leader Involved in Cyclone Relief Efforts in Rakhine

By The Irrawaddy 24 May 2023

The Myanmar junta has arrested Rakhine writer-turned-charity leader Wai Hun Aung, who has been carrying out humanitarian assistance efforts in storm-hit areas in northern Rakhine State, which suffered widespread destruction when Cyclone Mocha hit the area on May 14.

At least five people including Wai Hun Aung and his daughter were arrested on Tuesday evening while they were en route from Rakhine State’s capital Sittwe to Ponnagyun Township to provide humanitarian aid to storm-affected communities.

Since the cyclone, Wai Hun Aung and his charity, which bears his name, as well as other local rescue teams have been delivering aid to storm victims by traveling into cyclone-hit areas that have yet to receive relief supplies from the regime and international agencies.

Local Rakhine media reported that he was taken to the Aung Tha Pyay interrogation center in Sittwe Township, adding that the reason for the arrest was unclear.

Junta-controlled media reported the arrival of relief supplies in Sittwe starting late last week but villagers in some remote areas said they haven’t received anything yet. International aid agencies are still waiting for the junta’s approval to begin assistance efforts.

The United Nations on Tuesday launched an appeal for $333 million in emergency funding for 1.6 million people it said were affected after deadly Cyclone Mocha tore through Myanmar.

A local volunteer in Sittwe remarked that the arrest would hinder humanitarian efforts, as storm-hit communities in remote areas rely heavily on the assistance provided by local volunteer groups.

Last Friday, Wai Hun Aung went to four villages in Pauktaw Township, one of the hardest-hit areas and home to coastal fishing communities that are in urgent need of food supplies and shelter.

He told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the four villages desperately needed humanitarian assistance as they were completely wiped out by the storm.

He also made cash donations to families taking refuge in a monastery in Sittwe Township on Tuesday morning before he was arrested by the junta.

A popular figure among local communities in Rakhine State, Wai Hun Aung was detained in 2018 along with prominent Rakhine politician Dr. Aye Maung for remarks they made earlier that month at an event in Rathedaung Township commemorating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan kingdom to the Burmese in 1785.

The following year, under the since-ousted civilian government, both were sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges including treason and violating “the public tranquillity”.

They were released from Yangon’s Insein Prison on Feb. 12, 2021 under an amnesty declared by junta boss Min Aung Hlaing.