Detained at night, lifeless by morning: Arrests under Myanmar’s junta

Under the current military regime, members of Myanmar’s public have increasingly been taken into custody alive at night, only to have their bodies returned to their families the following morning. 

Both the condition and whereabouts of others who have been arrested by the junta remain unknown to their relatives and lawyers, who say they have been unable to obtain even basic information about detainees. 

Since the February 1 military coup that ousted the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, elected parliamentarians, party members and their families have been targeted for arrest, alongside people who have been peacefully protesting the coup nationwide in what is being described as Myanmar’s Spring Revolution. 

It remains difficult to confirm the official number of people detained by the regime. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), between February 1 and March 8 the military council arrested more than 1,700 people and security forces had killed at least 60. The AAPP has noted that investigations into these figures are ongoing. 

It is unknown how many of those detained have died during interrogations by security forces, but at least three have been confirmed. 

Fifty-eight-year-old Khin Maung Latt, the NLD party chair of a community ward in Yangon’s Pabedan Township was arrested on the night of March 6; by the next day, he had died in police custody. Zaw Myat Lynn, an NLD member in charge of the “Suu” vocational training institute in Yangon’s Shwepyitha Township, was arrested on March 8. His family was notified the following day that he too had died. 

In both these instances, the families still have not been officially told their cause of death. 

“From what we could observe visibly, he died because he was shot in the chest. But there was no precise explanation for the cause of the death,” an NLD central executive committee member said of Zaw Myat Lynn, describing the condition of his body when viewed by his widow at Mingaladon Military Hospital in Yangon.

Similarly, Khin Maung Latt’s family have also inquired about his cause of death in state custody, but the military administration offered no explanation. 

In the northern Shan State town of Muse, the Shan Herald Agency for News reported that 43-year-old Thein Lwin was arrested at an anti-coup protest, only to have his body– which appeared to have been beaten– returned to his family days later on March 5. 

Others taken by security forces have disappeared, their whereabouts unknown. 

Ko Ja Mar, an NLD member and personal security guard for the now detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested at his Bago Township home by armed personnel on March 9. At the time of reporting, his family had not received an update on where he was being held or what condition he was in. 

Myanmar Now spoke to a lawyer who is providing legal support to the families of people who have disappeared during protests in Yangon. He explained that as the number of missing persons grows, lawyers are sharing the caseload amongst themselves and working pro-bono.

On March 8, security forces blocked people who were peacefully protesting against the military coup in Sanchaung Township from leaving the area. At least 20 people were arrested overnight, but most managed to escape with the help of local residents. 

Lawyers have made a list of persons who are missing and have made inquiries with the authorities about whether they are being held in Insein Prison, but often do not receive a response.  

“Don’t even talk about the politicians– it’s still really hard to find out about ordinary people and youth who have been shot, beaten and arrested for joining peaceful protests,” the lawyer explained. “We don’t exactly know if they are here [in Insein Prison]. Have they already been charged? Are they healthy or injured? Seeing them seems so far off at this moment.” 

Relatives of and legal advocates for the missing persons say that as long as people remain unaccounted for, the numbers of those arrested or killed throughout the country will remain only estimates. 

Two days after the March 8 Sanchaung arrests, the mother of a missing boy attempted to inquire about his condition at the Sanchaung police station, where she had heard her son and others were detained. She received no answers.   

While trying to get further information about his whereabouts, she heard that protesters were being held in a military estate on Lower Mingaladon Road  in Yangon’s Shwepyitha Township. She went there on Thursday morning. 

“They just repeatedly said that no one was detained in the estate,” the mother of the young protester said. 

A woman who is helping the families of three disappeared protesters said that it is believed that prisoners are being held inside the compound, which served as a military prison in the past. Since the coup, prisoner transport vehicles have been seen by residents regularly coming in and out of the compound with security escort cars. 

“They have denied it,” she said of the security forces. “They said there are no detainees. Just during the time we were there, at around 12:00 p.m., two Double Cap cars full of soldiers and a prisoner transport vehicle drove into the estate,” she said. 

Another suburban Yangon Township, North Okkalapa, is believed to have seen some of the toughest crackdowns on protests, with military personnel using machine guns against the public. Local social welfare and volunteer groups have guessed that at least 30 people were killed there and many more arrested. 

Myanmar Now has been able to confirm eight deaths in that brutal crackdown. 

At least 13 were killed on March 5 in Mandalay in protests against the military dictatorship. Though the military council’s troops have arrested many people, only one death has been officially confirmed: Naing Min Ko, 21, in a statement by the military’s own MWD broadcasting channel, according to the victim’s older sister, Ngwe Hnin Phyu. 

She has repeatedly asked that Naing Min Ko’s body be returned to the family, but has received no response. 

At the time of publication, the military was continuing to inflict violence on protesters across the country. On the evening of March 9 alone, more than 70 people were arrested in Myeik, Tanintharyi Region. Among them, at least 45 were subjected to brutal torture at the hands of soldiers. 


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