Myanmar Military Detains People From The Arakan Army For Months At A Time

The 24-year-old was taken from his home in Let Kar village 26 months ago on suspicion of having ties to the Arakan Army (AA). Since then, he has been detained in Sittwe Prison.
San Tha Nu, his mother, has gone into debt traveling to his hearings and sending him food.
She said he used to have four hearings a month before the Covid-19 pandemic. “I attended every hearing to see him. There wasn’t enough food in the prison, so I needed money to buy food for him. I had to sell everything I owned. Now I have to borrow money to buy what my son needs.”
Between January 2019 and November 2020, hundreds of people were detained for alleged links to the AA when it fought Myanmar’s military. As of March 2020, 362 people had been arrested on these grounds, according to the Thazin Legal Institute in Sittwe.
The hearings have been halted due to restrictions imposed by Covid-19. Thazin Legal Institute director Myo Myat Hein says activists and their families are urging authorities to resume the trials of the seven accused as soon as possible. “I understand that the courts were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” she says. In some cases, despite the fact that the hearings have ended, the verdicts have not yet been delivered.”
On April 10, 2019, the Myanmar military and the AA fought near the Let Kar Bridge on the Yangon-Sittwe highway, close to Let Kar village. The army later arrested 27 people, including Oo Hla Maung.
During interrogation, three of them died. Two minors have been released. Twenty-two of them were sent to Sittwe Prison and remain there.
As a result of the arrest, villagers made their way to Tain Nyo and Pi Pinyin in the neighboring villages. Myanmar soldiers entered Let Kar around noon on May 16. That evening, 193 homes and a school were destroyed by fire.
The military attributed the fire to the AA, which denied the charge.
After the coup, the military junta removed the AA from its list of terrorist groups. The change was expected to lead to the release of those arrested on suspicion of being associated with the AA.
A number of detainees, including the brother and sister-in-law of the AA’s commander-in-chief, Twan Mrat Naing, have been released.
Others arrested on terrorism charges remain behind bars, unable to post bail and denied access to a timely trial.
Twan Mrat Naing told Arrakkha in an interview last month that the AA and the military had not reached a formal agreement regarding prisoners.
In the meantime, we are having informally online conversations, and we have come to the understanding that if those who are detained without compelling legal reasons are released during the trust-building period, the prospects for peace will be good.
This is why we freed the prisoners. However, a number of our comrades and people were detained without strong evidence, and they were not released.
Although our group was removed from the list of terrorist groups, their officials continued to charge our troops and Rakhine citizens under the anti-terrorism act.”
Mrauk-U prison houses 56 people accused of terrorist crimes, while Sittwe prison houses 60 people, Kyaukphyu prison houses 16, and Thandwe and Buthidaung prisons hold a handful.
He said, “These are considered human rights violations because they must be released if there is no evidence. Even if [the AA] was removed from the terrorist list, they must be released anyway,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, government offices were closed from July 17 until the end of August, meaning hearings were postponed.
For staging an anti-war protest in Sittwe, four members of the Rakhine State Students’ Union have now been detained for 10 months.
They chanted slogans such as: “We don’t want an army of fascism”, “We don’t want a colonial government”, and “Burmese government: get out!” during a march in October 2020.
They were charged under Section 505b of the penal code and section 29 of the Natural Disaster Management Law.
The students are still awaiting a verdict. On July 16, they staged a protest at the hearing to demand a faster resolution to their trial. “Deliver the verdict immediately!” they chanted. “Release innocent Rakhine people immediately!”
Myat Tun noted that family members have been unable to visit detainees in prison. “Food is also a problem,” he said.
Aung Win Naing, chairman of the Moe Charity School in Taungup, was arrested on June 5 and charged under the Unlawful Associations Act. He has not yet had a hearing due to Covid-19 restrictions, even though hearings can still be held online.
Officials from the Rakhine State High Court could not be reached for comment.
As a result of the AA’s removal from the terrorist list, 21 cases related to the Counter-Terrorism Act have been dropped.
San Tha Nu is still waiting for a similar outcome for her son. “He has been in prison for more than two years without any evidence,” she said. “I cannot figure out why he has not been released yet.”

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