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Radio Free Asia

Rakhine civilians arrested by Myanmar forces charged for alleged ties to Arakan Army

Family members say the men have no connections to the rebel army in western Myanmar.

Reported by RFA Burmese 2022.07.20 -- Thirty ethnic Rakhine civilian men arrested in June for allegedly having connections to Arakan Army rebels in western Myanmar's Rakhine state have been charged with harming public interest, relatives of those arrested and people assisting the men told RFA on Wednesday.

They were arrested by the Myanmar military around the same time that soldiers and the Arakan Army (AA) were arresting each other's personnel amid rising tensions in the area, which was engulfed in war between the two forces from 2018-20, the sources said.

Tensions between the two sides intensified in May when some civilians with ties to the AA were hunted down by the military. The AA retaliated by capturing junta soldiers. Neither side has released those it is holding.

As part of the ongoing hostilities, the military arrested more than 40 civilians, but later freed 10 and has opened cases against the remaining 30, sources told RFA.

Among those charged under Section 505(a) of Myanmar's Penal Code are nine men from Sittwe, six from Ponnagyun township, three from Kyauktaw township, eight from Mrauk-U township and four from Kyaukphyu township.

After the AA arrested three soldiers in Mrauk-U on June 21, the military, in turn, arrested no less than 10 civilians. Some were released, but eight people, including Kyaw Win Hlaing, were charged in the Mrauk-U District Court under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code.

Kyaw Win Hlaing, a 30-year-old tricycle driver, was arrested the following day, said a family member who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons. On July 4, he was taken from a military interrogation center to Yangon General Hospital in the commercial hub Yangon.

Though military authorities claimed that Kyaw Win Hlaing had kidney disease, the man had to receive medical treatment because he was severely beaten during the interrogations, his relative said.

"The military lied to us that his kidneys were not good, but we noticed that he was badly beaten," said the family member. "There were many injuries and wounds. He was beaten in the groin and belly and on the legs. We think the military is purposely doing this to people."

Kyaw Win Hlaing is now finding it difficult to pay for his medical care, the relative said.

'They are innocent'

Military authorities charged four of the six civilians arrested in Ponnagyun township — Tun Hlaing, Win Maung Than, Kyaw Min and Myat Thuratun — only under Section 505(a), while the other two — Ba Hlaing and Myo Thwin — were also charged with allegedly obstructing justice.

Ba Hlaing's wife, Aye Khaing, told RFA that the military arrested the men unlawfully.

"They are innocent," she said. "That's why we want our men to be released as soon as possible. We also want to say that the charges against them were not right. They were wrongfully accused."

"My husband is a person free from politics and scandals," she added. "He has been working honestly and was arrested unlawfully."

Captain Kyi Hlaing of the military's Light Infantry Battalion 550 based in Ponnagyun filed the charges against the six men, who appeared in court on July 15. Their next hearing date is July 29.

All six and two youths from the township's Pauk Taw Pyin village, were arrested on June 16 after the AA arrested a junta soldier, local sources said. The two young men are now in Sittwe Prison, though their charges are unknown.

Family members told RFA that three locals, including activist Zaw Win, who were arrested and charged in Kyauktaw township under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code, will appear in court on Thursday.

The other two individuals — Sai Wunna Kyaw and Tun Tun Zaw — were arrested on June 24.

Than Hlaing and Khin Ohn Nwe, who were arrested on May 26, are also facing trial under Section 505(a) for allegedly providing funds to the AA.

Subjected to torture

Myat Tun, director of the Rakhine Human Rights Protection Group, said the men had been arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained and that their relatives said they had been tortured by the military during interrogations.

"According to family members of those who were arrested, we heard that they were subjected to torture during the interrogations," he said.

"Article 30 of the Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that people cannot be tortured," Myat Tun added. "This should not have happened."

Those arrested are civilians who have no association with the AA, he said.

Writer and former political prisoner Wai Hin Aung said the arrested civilians should not be harmed.

"If these people were taken away on suspicion for questioning, then they should be released afterwards," he said.

"It's no problem with taking action against AA members, but I don't want civilians to be harmed in any way," he added.

AA spokesman Khine Thukha said the actions of the military council are crimes because the people who have been arrested and charged are innocent civilians.

RFA could not reach junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment, though he previously said on June 28 that no civilians had been arrested by military forces in Rakhine state.

"These people are completely innocent civilians," he told RFA. "Making arbitrary arrests of these innocent civilians and torturing them are bullying acts. Therefore, we want to say that this is a case of injustice. It is nothing uncommon for armed forces to seize each other's personnel. However, arresting and abusing innocent civilians like this is a crime against humanity."

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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