On This Day

The Day When a US Medic was Jailed in Myanmar for Treason

By Wei Yan Aung 17 January 2020

Yangon – On this day 69 years ago, a US medic and missionary, Dr. Gordon Seagrave, was sentenced to six years in prison for high treason for allegedly supporting rebel groups.

He could have avoided jail time by leaving the country, but Dr. Seagrave, who was born in what was then Rangoon, refused to leave in consideration of the Shan, Palaung, Lisu and Kachin communities in northern Shan State who relied on him for their health care.

The Johns Hopkins University graduate performed thousands of surgeries for members of hill tribes at Namkham Hospital between 1922 and 1951.

However, when a rebel group led by Kachin Lieutenant Naw Seng occupied Namkham following independence in 1948, the doctor was charged with high treason.

He was given six years in prison but was acquitted on appeal.

The medic was jailed for around five months in Yangon and put under house arrest for nearly 10 months during the trial. During that period, his elder sister died of exhaustion managing Namkham Hospital.

After Dr. Seagrave’s release, Prime Minister U Nu held consultations with him to improve health care in war-torn rural areas.

The health care plans proposed by Dr. Seagrave never materialized as senior medical officers advising U Nu opposed his suggestions.

Dr. Seagrave continued to work in Shan State at the European-style Namkham Hospital, which was built with rocks from the Shweli River.

According to historical records, when the Revolutionary Council of military dictator U Ne Win nationalized hospitals, it spared Namkham Hospital as a gesture of respect to Dr. Seagrave.

The council nationalized the hospital after Dr. Seagrave’s death in 1965 aged 68 and his body was entombed at the site.

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