Security personnel loyal to Myanmar’s military regime who fail to detain anti-coup activists in raids are increasingly arresting their family members, apparently to use them as leverage, sources say, with the move prompting the condemnation of watchdogs who call the practice a violation of law and human rights.
Last week, security forces in Bago region’s Okshitpin township raided the home of Min Min Oo, who has helped to organize protests against the junta for its Feb. 1 overthrow of Myanmar’s democratically elected government. A source close to the family told RFA’s Myanmar Service that when they were unable to find him, they arrested his 60-year-old mother and wife, who is in her 40s.
“Min Min Oo is an active youth leader here,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisal. “They have been looking for him since he became prominent.”
“The two women were not released … I don't know where they were taken.”
On May 2, around 200 troops raided the home of political activist Tin Htut Paing in North Okkalapa township, in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon.
The activist told RFA that when they were unable to find him, they beat up his 90-year-old grandmother and 64-year-old mother, who was later arrested and sentenced to three years in prison on May 28 for violating Section 505(a) of the Penal Code for “circulating statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause military officers to disregard or fail in their duties.”
“I never thought they could be that evil—not in the city,” he said.
“I had thought there might be some interrogations. But now they have raided the house, smashed everything, and beaten old women … They beat [my grandmother] with their fists and with a gun. This is just another example of how the minions of a military dictatorship oppress the people.”
Tin Htut Paing said he had been away from home for a long time due to work and had no contact with his family as popular resistance grew against the junta in the months since the coup.
He said his mother suffers from several medical conditions and that she prison authorities are no longer keeping her isolated from the general population of inmates as a political prisoner.
Myanmar’s military says that its government takeover was justified, claiming the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the country’s November 2020 elections was the result of voter fraud, although it has produced no evidence to support its allegations.
In the time since the takeover, authorities have responded to widespread protests and a growing Civil Disobedience Movement with violent crackdowns that have killed more than 850 people.
Cruel new tactics
Legal experts told RFA that junta troops under Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing have acted with a malevolence far surpassing that of the country’s prior military regime.
“Min Aung Hlaing should be crowned as the cruelest—not even [former junta prime minister] Khin Nyunt was that evil,” said veteran lawyer Kyee Myint of the raids that have arrested the elderly female family members of political activists.
“They’re doing things any way they want. So, it’s meaningless to suggest that our country is ruled by law. There is no pity for the elderly. There is no humanity.”
Myanmar has ratified the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1979. The country also enacted the Law on the Elderly in December 2016, which states that men and women over the age of 60 have the right to protection from physical harm, as well as verbal and psychological abuse.
Nickey Diamond, Myanmar specialist at Fortify Rights, told RFA that the beating, arrest, and imprisonment of innocent family members—including elderly women—not only violates domestic laws, but is in violation of international human rights provisions.
“It seems they are trying hard to prove that they are more of a terrorist group, according to domestic and global standards,” she said of the junta.
“Under international human rights laws, there is a law called CEDAW that protects women. There are codes of conduct to follow. Under human rights laws, arresting and imprisoning people who are not involved in any crime goes beyond human rights. It is a blatant act of terrorism.”
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), nearly 4,700 political prisoners have been arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup, while some 1,940 have been charged with a warrant and are evading arrest.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.