By Francis Wade Apr 21, 2011 9:22PM UTC
It has been weeks since Nay Myo Zin’s family learnt of his arrest. The former army captain-turned-charity worker was taken quietly by Burmese intelligence on 2 April, and repeated attempts by his family to gain access to the Rangoon interrogation centre he is rumoured to be at have been unsuccessful.
Nay Myo Zin had been volunteering at a Rangoon-based blood donation group run by a National League for Democracy member – perhaps his first mistake. The 36-year-old, whom his mother said retired from the army several years ago because “he didn’t enjoy it there – he is a morally strong kid”, appeared to know of his pending arrest:
“He phoned me around 4pm on Saturday and said he was being picked up by local [Special Branch] police sergeant Myint Swe to go to Aungthabyay interrogation centre for some questioning,” Nyi Nyi, the head of the blood group, told DVB days after his arrest.
He was allowed to speak to his family the following day, and that was the last anyone heard of him. His mother “can’t imagine how badly they are torturing him”, although his whereabouts and condition remain a mystery, as does the reason for his disappearance.
What really grates though is the timing of the arrest, three days after the new “civilian” government and president were sworn in. Nay Myo Zin thus carries the distinction of being its first political detainee, and may he become the poster boy of the ‘new’ Burma, as its leaders continually hail it.
The Burmese regime (or government, or whatever) has a long history of arresting charity and relief workers. Although perhaps seen as the softer side of dissent in Burma – they highlight the government’s ineptitude by ‘undermining’ it, rather than attacking it directly – they are still worthy of silencing.
In a wave of sentencing that followed cyclone Nargis in 2008, 21 aid workers were jailed on charges ranging from sedition to the Unlawful Association Act. Six students were then sentenced in April 2009 to between two and four years each, also under charges of sedition for collecting and burying rotting corpses in the cyclone’s grisly aftermath.
What will become of Nay Myo Zin remains anyone’s guess – media attention at this early stage can reap benefits (nudge, nudge), but past history shows it may not be worth investing too much in this. Those giving a thumbs-up to the “greater civilian character” of the government, however, should take a second look.