YANGON—Six Arakanese recently deported from Singapore have been sued by a police intelligence department for funding an ethnic armed group under the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law. Relatives and police have confirmed that all six are in detention at the Mayangone Township Police Station.
An officer from the Mayangone Police Station told The Irrawaddy on Thursday morning that the Special Branch—an intelligence department under the Ministry of Home Affairs—is acting as the plaintiff in the case. He said that all of the Arakanese deportees were arrested shortly after their arrival at Yangon International Airport on July 12.
Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry in revoking the immigration status of the six and deporting them back to Myanmar, claimed they were using the city-state as a base to fundraise for and support the Arakan Army (AA), which they labeled a terrorist organization.
The AA is currently fighting the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) for self-determination in Rakhine State. Like many ethnic armed organizations they fight, the Myanmar military considers the AA a terrorist organization.
The six were all members of the Arakanese Association-Singapore (AAS), a social welfare organization that contributes relief aid from Singapore to displaced Arakanese in the north of Rakhine State.
Police in Mayangone said four of the six have been accused of financing terrorism which, under Section 52 of the Counter-Terrorism Law, carries a minimum three-year sentence and a maximum of seven, plus possible fines.
One detainee is the brother of an AA chief.
The Police official declined to provide the names of the four accused with funding terrorism because he is not involved in the investigation.
The brother-in-law of suspect Ko Hein Zaw, the chair of the AAS, told The Irrawaddy that all six are being sued under the same article. They have been in detention for two weeks so far, with family members unable to see them.
Ko Hein Zaw’s brother-in-law said the six were first detained at the Mayangone Township courthouse on July 12 and that their detentions were extended for further investigations. As the period of their remand is set to expire on Thursday, the suspects could appear at the court in Mayangone on Friday.
The brother-in-law said relatives were told the detainees were not physically abused and that an investigator usually questions them for one hour a day.
He added that another two people associated with the deportees are also being held but he doesn’t know why they were arrested.
He said he was told that, because the AAS members had recently organized an event celebrating the AA’s tenth anniversary—complete with a battle reenactment with replica firearms—they will likely also be charged with defamation, as the military felt the reenactment tarnished its image.
Shortly after their initial arrest, some local and international media reported the deportees were arrested for counterfeiting money based on a Naypyidaw-Yangon Traffic Police Facebook post.
“That’s totally nonsense. The media unprofessionally spread baseless accusations,” the brother-in-law said. “We have already inquired with our lawyers about the fake money issue and he said the Singapore police have already told the Myanmar police there was no such thing related to the arrests.”
In an effort to tackle transnational crime and terrorism-related money transactions, the U.S. State Department has worked with a 24-member team of Myanmar law officers since 2018, including funding and training. State-owned newspapers have reported that Jorgan K. Andrews, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, and George Sibley, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy, met with Head of the Union Attorney-General’s Office U Tun Tun Oo and police at a forum in Naypyitaw on Thursday.
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