Myanmar coup: Detainees’ families seek answers

Nearly a year after his son was last seen being taken away by Myanmar government troops, Win Hlaing, 66, said he just wanted to know if his son was still alive.

One night last April, a neighbor called him to learn that his son, Wai Soe Hlaing, a young father running a phone shop in Yangon, had been detained for anti-government protests. against the February 1 military coup.

According to Win Hlaing and the Association to Support Political Prisoners (AAPP), they traced the 31-year-old to the local police station, a nonprofit that documents arrests and murders.

After that, the trail was cold. He has disappeared.

Reuters called the police station but could not determine the whereabouts of Wai Soe Hlaing, or the missing relatives of two other people who were interviewed for this article.

An army spokesman did not respond to email requests for comment and did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Wai Soe Hlaing is among many who activists and families say have disappeared since Myanmar descended into turmoil after the military toppled the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The AAPP estimates more than 8,000 people are being held in prisons and interrogation centers, including Suu Kyi and most of her cabinet, while around 1,500 people have been killed. Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures from the AAPP.

They say hundreds of people died after being detained. The government has said that the figures are exaggerated and that the AAPP spread misinformation. The military did not disclose the number of people detained.


The military does not notify relatives when a person is arrested and prison officials often do not do so when they arrive at the prison, so families must make efforts to locate their loved ones by calling and visiting. visit police stations and prisons or rely on accounts from local media or human rights groups.

They sometimes send food packages as a sign that their loved one is being kept there if the package is accepted, a report by Human Rights Watch says.

In many cases, AAPP co-founder Bo Kyi said, the organization has been able to identify someone who has been detained but not where. Tae-Ung ​​Baik, chair of the United Nations working group on enforced disappearances, told Reuters that the group had received reports from families in Myanmar of forced disappearances since then. February last year and “the situation is seriously alarming”.

In a border town, 43-year-old activist Aung Nay Myo, who fled there from the northwestern region of Sagaing, said army troops removed his parents and siblings from their home in the middle of the day. December and he doesn’t know where they are.

He believes they were detained because of his work as a satire writer. Among them is a 74-year-old father, disabled due to an accident.

“I can’t help but worry every second of every minute,” said Aung Nay Myo.

Two police stations in Monywa town, their hometown in the Sagaing region, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

In some areas, military resistance has turned into conflict, with the fighting displaced tens of thousands of people across the country, according to the UN Thousands have fled across the border to Thailand. and India.


In the northeastern state of Kayah, where fighting is fierce, Banyar Khun Naung, director of the nonprofit Karenni Human Rights Foundation, said at least 50 people were missing.

The group is trying to help families find, asking recently released prisoners any names they can remember.

“The family of the missing is very painful, especially mentally, because they don’t know where their loved ones are,” he said.

Myint Aung, in his 50s and now living in a camp for displaced people in Kayah, said his 17-year-old son Pascalal disappeared in September.

Myint Aung said the teenager told his father he was going to their home in the capital Loikaw to check on the situation, but never came back.

Instead, he was arrested by security forces, Myint Aung told Reuters by phone, saying local villagers told him. When he stopped at the station to deliver food, he discovered the soldiers guarding this area and ran away.

Since then, Myint Aung has not heard from his son, but the rights group told him he is no longer at the police station, citing conversations with several people who were recently released. free. Reuters was unable to independently verify this information.

Banyar Khun Naung, director of rights group Karenni, said the teenager was one of two young people photographed performing the “Hunger Games” salute accepted by protesters as they were detained kneeling by the roadside. , was tied by a soldier with a rope, in an image that went viral on social media. His sister confirmed over the phone that it was Pascalal.

The photo appeared in a viral post from an account that appeared to belong to a senior soldier, with the caption, “While we let them do what they want before we put bullets in their heads .” The account was later deleted, and Reuters could not reach its owner for comment.

“He’s an underage civilian boy and he’s done nothing wrong,” his father Myint Aung said.

Police in Loikaw did not respond to phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.

In Yangon, Wai Soe Hlaing’s family told their four-year-old daughter that her father was working in a remote place. Sometimes, Win Hlaing said, she mutters about him: “My father has been gone for too long.”

(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung; Writing and additional reporting by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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