Myanmar Regime Steps Up Arrests of Doctors as Strike Movement Takes Toll
By The Irrawaddy 19 April 2021
In its sweeping attempt to crack down on the country’s striking medics, the Myanmar military regime has opened lawsuits against 139 doctors under incitement laws in less than a week and is trying to arrest them for their refusal to work under its rule.
The junta’s latest attack on the country’s striking medics began on Tuesday with the announcement of lawsuits against 19 doctors, including a director of the Health Ministry, for their encouragement of other government workers to join the Civil Disobedient Movement (CDM) while supporting the country’s shadow government formed by deposed lawmakers.
Since then, the regime’s “charge list against doctors” had swelled to 139 as of Monday and is updated on a daily basis. The regime said there will be more to come. On the list so far are medical superintendents, specialists and assistant doctors who have been on strike at government hospitals in major cities like Yangon and Mandalay as well as provincial towns across the country.
According to the regime’s daily announcement, the doctors have been charged under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code. It said, “Attempts to arrest those who have been charged are now under way.”
If arrested and found guilty, each doctor faces three years’ imprisonment.
While the charges and efforts to arrest them pose a threat to the doctors on the list, they are also a testament to how hard the regime has been hit by the medics’ CDM.
Following the coup on Feb. 1, many doctors, nurses and others in the country’s health sector initiated the CDM. They left the hospitals to take to the streets to condemn the takeover, demanded that the regime release the country’s detained leaders—President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—and denounced military rule.
Inspired by their counterparts in the country’s health sector, government staff from other ministries left their desks to join the CDM. Even major private banks have found it hard to operate as their staffs have joined the movement.
Doctors on strike told The Irrawaddy that the nationwide movement initiated and motivated by the healthcare sector has become a powerful weapon, making it impossible for the regime to govern the country.
Due to the movement, the regime has not received any income to run the machinery of the country, as many revenue-collection offices are closed and people have stopped paying taxes to the junta as part of the CDM.
“The junta has been badly hit by the movement. They can’t function any more, as all income has been stopped, while it has to pay its staff and other bills,” said a surgeon at a Yangon hospital.
He added, “The CDM is a kind of rope tying up the junta so that it cannot move. But, we can’t depend only on the movement. We need other things to kill [the junta],” the surgeon said.
The medics’ contribution to the CDM alone has had a real impact. In late February, coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing bemoaned that nearly one-third of Myanmar’s 1,262 public hospitals had not functioned for nearly three weeks.
He also accused the doctors and nurses on strike of being “unethical” and threatened to “take action” against them if they did not go back to work soon.
Caught off guard by the medics’ movement, the regime hastily opened their military hospitals to the public and sent their medical corps to local hospitals to fill the vacuum. They said they have treated more than 100,000 outpatients and nearly 5,000 serious cases, while delivering more than 9,200 babies from Feb. 5 to April 18. However, they still haven’t disclosed the daily patient numbers at their hospitals or how many medics in uniforms have been deployed at how many public hospitals across the country.
Despite the above figures, the senior general’s warning in February and his latest legal campaign under Section 505(a) suggest the medics in uniform may not be able to cope with the overwhelming need for public healthcare, probably due to their limited facilities and human resources.
Doctors in the movement also said that the regime’s ability to maintain the healthcare system is one of the main ways in which its governing of the country will be judged, and crucial to its public image.
“But the junta has been unable to re-establish those sectors due to the CDM of healthcare workers and others,” said a medic who is participating in the CDM in Mandalay.
That is one of the reasons that striking medical doctors are being targeted, he said.
In a recent press conference, regime spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun accused the medics on strike of killing people in cold blood by being absent from hospitals when patients were in need.
He may have turned a blind eye to one important fact, however.
Many doctors supporting the CDM have been providing free treatment for patients whose medical records are held with government hospitals at private and free clinics, despite ongoing harassment from the regime.
Also, many doctors and healthcare workers joining the CDM have set up charity clinics for those needing emergency treatment, and have gone undercover to treat patients wounded during the crackdowns on anti-regime protests.
Meanwhile, mobile medical teams and secret medical clinics including those set up by social organizations to provide medical treatment to people—including wounded anti-regime protesters—have been increasingly targeted with violence and arrests.
On April 5, junta forces raided a charity clinic in Sanchaung Township of Yangon and arrested four volunteer medical staff—Dr. Aung Kyaw Oo, Dr. Soe San Phyo, Dr. Chan Myae Zaw and Ma Khin Sus Tun—along with five other volunteers.
On April 2, Dr. Nay Myo, a physician providing free medical treatment, was also arrested by plainclothes police in Bago Region after leaving his clinic.
Over the past two months, at least six striking medics, including some providing free treatments to patients, were arrested by junta forces.
“They [regime] will never win, no matter how much more they torture, suppress or arrest striking doctors and civil staff. Because the main ambition, to reject the regime totally, is firmly based in the hearts of those doctors and civil staff taking part in the CDM,” said the doctor in Mandalay.
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