‘Panda of Monywa’ Remains in Myanmar Regime’s Custody as Fears for his Safety Grow

By The Irrawaddy 16 April 2021

Fears grew for the safety of Ko Wai Moe Naing, a prominent leader of anti-coup movement, when a picture of him badly tortured went viral online Friday, one day after he was hit by a car, arrested and taken to a military base by junta forces.

Fan art of Ko Wai Moe Naing.

The 26-year-old Muslim has been one of the country’s most prominent faces of Myanmar’s protest movement against the regime. Defying violent crackdowns by regime’s forces, he has led daily mass rallies in Monywa town in Sagaing region since February, beginning just few days after the military staged its coup.

Ko Wai Moe Naing speaks to the protesters during an anti-regime march in Monywa, Sagaing Region in late March. (Photo: Wai Moe Naing/ Facebook)

In the picture, with bruises on his face and his hands tied behind his back, he appeared to have been severely beaten.

“Yes, it’s him,” said one of Ko Wai Moe Naing’s friends.

Another friend who was with him at the time of his arrest also confirmed that the picture was of Ko Wai Moe Naing, citing the clothes he was wearing.

When he was arrested, he was leading a motorbike strike rally as he had on previous days. Suddenly a private vehicle appeared from the opposite direction and crashed onto Ko Wai Moe Naing’s motorbike.

Ko Wai Moe Naing seen in a motorbike strike rally in Monywa, Sagaing Region. (Photo: Wai Moe Naing/ Facebook)

A protester who joined the strike said after his motorbike was struck, Ko Wai Moe Naing fell face down on the ground. He immediately tried to crawl away, stood up and tried to run to evade arrest.

But a group of armed thugs, clad in black t-shirts with military trousers and shoes, emerged from the vehicle that had struck the motorbike and chased him. He was beaten. His hands were tied behind his back, and he was arrested at a gunpoint.

“It seemed they wanted to get him whether dead or alive [They] deliberately rammed into his motorbike,” she said.

The injured protest leader was taken to North Western Command followed after his arrest.

“Nothing about his condition is known yet. About how badly he was injured. Whether he received treatment. I am afraid that he will be brutally tortured during interrogation and die,” a close friend of Ko Wai Moe Naing said.

“When I am in the middile of the people in the protest, I don’t feel afraid of anything,” the protest leader told a Korean media. (Photo: Wai Moe Naing/ Facebook)

Many people shared that same concern for the homegrown pro-democracy activist, who was affectionately known as “Panda of Monywa” for his chubbiness. There are other examples of anti-regime protesters dying after being tortured by security forces. There are some who believe his life is in even greater danger in hands of junta because he belongs to the Muslim minority.

U Khin Maung Latt, a National League for Democracy (NLD) ward chairman in Pabedan Township, Yangon, died after he was detained by regime’s forces. The blood-soaked body of the 58-year-old Muslim handed over to his family the day after his arrest. Two more NLD members also died of torture during detention after him. There were also reports of others who were arrested during crackdowns and later returned as dead bodies to their families.

Fueling the concern, Ko Wai Moe Naing, who is former president of Monywa University Student Union and a member of Sagaing Regional Youth Committee, was facing warrants for several criminal charges including the alleged murder of two police officers in Monywa in late March, theft and incitement.

Recently the regime has issued death sentences to 19 people from Yangon’s North Okkalapa Township accused of “killing an army officer’s associate, beating the officer and stealing his gun” and seven people for “killing a woman in Hlaing Tharyar.”

Defying violent crackdowns by regime’s forces, Ko Wai Moe Naing has led daily mass rallies in Monywa town in Sagaing region since February.(Photo: Wai Moe Naing/ Facebook)

Monywa’s General Strike Committee has called for him to receive urgent medical treatment in the hospital and for the regime to allow urgent visits from his family and a lawyer. The group also announced that they will continue fight until the fall of military dictatorship.

His mother, Daw Moe Sandar Kyu, the only family member of the detained protest leader, told The Irrawaddy that even though she had mentally prepared for her son’s potential arrest, the appalling act made her worried for his condition.

“I was worried for the worst when I saw how he was arrested,” his mother said. Video footage circulated on social media appeared to show the moment his motorbike was hit.

The family and lawyer have not been in contact with him as of late Friday.

A member of Monywa’s General Strike Committee said he is worried about the murder charge brought against the detained leader.

“If we can face the charges [in accordance with] the law, I have no worries because the case was built up with no evidence. But we [have] had cases that they built up as they wanted,” the committee member said.

Referring to the alleged murders of police, Daw Moe Sandar Kyu said her son has never caused harm to anyone since his birth nor committed any grievous sins.

“He is just a young man standing for justice,” his mom said.

“Thus with my love for him, as his mother, I pray that he would be free from any danger. May Allah’s blessings be upon him.”

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