A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers

Wai Soe Hlaing was detained in April 2021 and his family said they were unable to trace his location. (Handout via REUTERS)
Wai Soe Hlaing was detained in April 2021 and his family said they were unable to trace his location. (Handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 29 January 2022

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers
  • The AAPP estimates more than 8,000 people are detained in Myanmar prisons and interrogation centers
  • More than 1,500 were estimated to have been killed, some after they were placed behind bars

Nearly a year after his son was last seen being hauled away by Myanmar junta troops, 66-year-old Win Hlaing says he just wants to know whether he is alive.
One night last April, a neighbor phoned to tell him his son, Wai Soe Hlaing, a young father who ran a phone shop in Yangon, had been detained in connection with protests against the Feb. 1 military coup.
They traced the 31-year-old to a local police station, according to Win Hlaing and The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit that has been documenting arrests and killings.
Then the trail went cold. He had vanished.
Reuters called the police station but was unable to determine the whereabouts of Wai Soe Hlaing, or the missing relatives of two other people who were interviewed for this article.
A spokesman for the junta did not respond to emailed requests for comment and did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
Wai Soe Hlaing is among many people who activists and families say have disappeared since Myanmar was plunged into turmoil after the military overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The AAPP estimates more than 8,000 people are detained in prisons and interrogation centers, including Suu Kyi and most of her cabinet, while about 1,500 have been killed. Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures from the AAPP.
They say hundreds have died after being detained. The junta has said the figures are exaggerated and that the AAPP spreads false information. The junta has not disclosed the number of people in detention.

Search for loved ones
The military does not notify relatives when a person is arrested and prison officials often do not do so when they arrive in jail, so families laboriously search for their relatives by calling and visiting police stations and prisons or relying on accounts from local media or human rights groups.
Sometimes they send food parcels and take it as a sign their relative is being held there if the package is accepted, a Human Rights Watch report said.
In many cases, AAPP co-founder Bo Kyi said, the organization has been able to determine someone has been detained but not where. Tae-Ung Baik, chair of the United Nations’ working group on enforced disappearances told Reuters the group had received reports from families in Myanmar of enforced disappearances since last February and was “seriously alarmed” by the situation.
In a border town, 43-year-old activist Aung Nay Myo, who fled there from the northwestern Sagaing region, said junta troops took his parents and siblings from their home in mid-December and he does not know where they were.
He believes they were detained because of his work as a satirical writer. Among them is his 74-year-old father, left disabled by a stroke.
“There is nothing I can do but worry every moment,” Aung Nay Myo said.
Two police stations in the town of Monywa, their hometown in Sagaing region, did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
In some areas, resistance to the junta has spiralled into conflict, with fighting displacing tens of thousands of people across the country, according to the UN Thousands have fled across borders to Thailand and India.

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In the northeastern Kayah state, where fighting has been fierce, Banyar Khun Naung, director of the non-profit Karenni Human Rights Group, said at least 50 people were missing.
The group is trying to help families search, asking recently released prisoners any names they remembered.
“The families of missing people are in great pain, especially mentally, as it is exhausting not to know where their loved ones are,” he said.
Myint Aung, in his mid-50s and now living in a camp for internally displaced people in Kayah, said his 17-year-old son Pascalal disappeared in September.
The teenager told his father he was going to travel to their home in the state capital Loikaw to check on the situation, but never came back, Myint Aung said.
Instead, he was detained by security forces, Myint Aung told Reuters by phone, saying that local villagers told him. When he visited the station to deliver food, he found soldiers guarding the area and ran away.
Since then, Myint Aung has heard nothing of his son, but the rights group told him he was no longer at the police station, citing conversations with several people recently freed. Reuters was unable to independently verify this information.
Banyar Khun Naung, the Karenni rights group director, said the teenager was one of two young men pictured making the “Hunger Games” salute adopted by protesters as they were detained kneeling by the side of a road, lashed together with rope by a soldier, in an image widely circulated on social media. His sister confirmed by phone it was Pascalal.
The photo appeared in a viral post from an account that appeared to belong to a high-ranking soldier, with the caption, “While we let them do what they want before we put bullets through their heads.” The account was subsequently deleted and Reuters was not able to reach its owner for comment.
“He’s an underage civilian boy and he didn’t do anything wrong,” his father Myint Aung said.
Police in Loikaw did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.
In Yangon, the family of Wai Soe Hlaing tell his four-year-old daughter her father is working somewhere far away. Sometimes, Win Hlaing said, she murmurs about him: “My papa has been gone too long.”


UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
Updated 58 min 10 sec ago

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
  • The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans

LONDON: Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a “disaster and betrayal” hampered by a lack of leadership from senior politicians and civil servants, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report released Tuesday.
The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission despite knowing for 18 months that such an evacuation might be necessary.
This was compounded by the fact that there seemed to be no clear lines of leadership among political leaders, with decisions made on the basis of “untraceable and unaccountable political interventions,” the committee said in its report.
“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,” the committee said.
The report was based on an eight-month inquiry during which the committee heard testimony from 20 witnesses and reviewed written evidence from 36 organizations.


Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules

Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules
Updated 24 May 2022

Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules

Beijing ramps up COVID-19 quarantine, Shanghai residents decry uneven rules
  • Chinese vice premier: Situation in Beijing manageable, but containment efforts cannot ease

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Beijing stepped up quarantine efforts to end its month-old COVID-19 outbreak as fresh signs of frustration emerged in Shanghai, where some bemoaned unfair curbs with the city of 25 million preparing to lift a prolonged lockdown in just over a week.
Even as China’s drastic attempts to eradicate COVID-19 entirely — its “zero-COVID” approach — bite into prospects for the world’s second-biggest economy, new reported infection numbers remain well below levels seen in many Western cities. The capital reported 48 new cases for Monday among its population of 22 million, with Shanghai reporting fewer than 500.
Still, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan called for more thorough measures to cut virus transmission and adhere to the nation’s zero-COVID-19 policy during an inspection tour in Beijing, state agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.
The situation in Beijing was manageable, but containment efforts cannot ease, she said, according to Xinhua.
In one example of the stringency of Beijing’s approach, around 1,800 people in one city neighborhood were relocated to Zhangjiakou city in the nearby Hebei province for quarantine, the state-backed Beijing Daily reported.
Still in place are instructions for residents in six of the capital’s 16 districts to work from home, while a further three districts encouraged people to follow such measures, with each district responsible for implementing its own guidelines.
Beijing had already reduced public transport, requesting some shopping malls and other venues to close and sealing buildings where new cases were detected.
In Shanghai, authorities plan to keep most restrictions in place this month, before a more complete lifting of the two-month-old lockdown from June 1. Even then, public venues will have to cap people flows at 75 percent of capacity.
With Shanghai officially declared to be a zero-COVID-19 city, some authorities allowed more people to leave their homes for brief periods over the past week, and more supermarkets and pharmacies were authorized to reopen and provide deliveries.
But other lower-level officials separately tightened restrictions in some neighborhoods, ordering residents back indoors to cement progress achieved so far during the city’s final lap toward exiting the lockdown.
That has led to frustration and complaints of uneven treatment among some residents.
While the zero-COVID-19 status describes the entire city, and residents in some compounds have been allowed to move in and out of their homes freely, others have been told they can only go out for a few hours, and many of those stuck indoors were told nothing.
Videos circulating on social media this week showed residents arguing with officials to be let out of their residential compounds.
The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
One resident said people in his compound decided on the WeChat social media platform to go out in groups.
“Let’s strike at our gate tonight to demand that we be allowed to go out like many of other compounds in the neighborhood,” he quoted one of his neighbors as saying in the group chat.
A video he shared then showed a group of people arguing at the entrance of the compound with a man who described himself as a sub-district official, who asked the residents to go back inside and discuss the situation.
“Don’t bother with him,” one person said as some people were socialising outside the compound.
People in at least two other compounds were planning to try going outside despite not being told they were allowed to do so, residents said.


FBI counts 61 ‘active shooter’ incidents last year, up 52 percent from 2020

The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings. (REUTERS)
The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 May 2022

FBI counts 61 ‘active shooter’ incidents last year, up 52 percent from 2020

The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings. (REUTERS)
  • The Las Vegas attack alone helped push 2017’s annual casualty toll — 143 killed and 591 wounded — to record highs even though there were only 31 active shooting incidents that year, about half the number in 2021

WASHINGTON: The United States experienced 61 “active shooter” incidents last year, up sharply in the sheer number of attacks, casualties and geographic distribution from 2021 and the highest tally in over 20 years, the FBI reported on Monday.
The 2021 total, spread over 30 states, was 52 percent higher than 2020 and about double each of the three previous years, according to the FBI. The agency defines an active shooter as someone engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a public space in seemingly random fashion.
Commercial businesses accounted for just over half of all such incidents last year, which also was notable for an emerging trend of “roving active shooters” opening fire in multiple locations, as was the case with a gunman who attacked several Atlanta-area day spas, the FBI said.
Last year’s active-shooter carnage left 103 people dead and 140 wounded, the report said. By contrast, the FBI counted 40 active-shooter attacks in 19 states that killed 38 people and wounded 126 in 2020, a year that coincided with the height of restrictions on social and economic life due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Comparisons with recent years are heavily skewed by data from 2017, the year a gunman opened fire on an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas from a high-rise hotel window, killing 56 people and wounding hundreds more in a single incident.
The Las Vegas attack alone helped push 2017’s annual casualty toll — 143 killed and 591 wounded — to record highs even though there were only 31 active shooting incidents that year, about half the number in 2021.
As high as last year’s death toll was, it ranks as only the seventh deadliest year in active shooting incidents dating back to 2000, the first year for which FBI figures are available. Still, it marks the biggest number of such attacks on record, exceeding only the 40 recorded in 2020.
California, despite having some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, accounted for more active shooter incidents than any other state last year, six out of 61, followed by Texas and Georgia with five each, according to the report.
The single deadliest incident of 2021 was the mass shooting at the Kings Soopers Grocery Store in Boulder, Colorado, in which 10 victims perished. Eight were killed and seven wounded at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.
The FBI noted that its active shooter report does not encompass all gun violence or even all mass shootings, which the government defines as at least killings in a single incident.
Excluded from the data were gang- or drug-related acts of violence, incidents defined strictly as domestic disputes, isolated hostage situations or crossfire from other criminal acts, the FBI said.


South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’

South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’
Updated 24 May 2022

South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’

South Asia’s intense heat wave a ‘sign of things to come’
  • Current level of global warming, caused by human-caused climate change, has made those heat waves 30 times more likely
  • Heat wave blamed for glacier burst in Pakistan, causing floods, and scorching of wheat crops in India

NEW DELHI: The devastating heat wave that has baked India and Pakistan in recent months was made more likely by climate change and is a glimpse of the region’s future, international scientists said in a study released Monday.
The World Weather Attribution group analyzed historical weather data that suggested early, long heat waves that impact a massive geographical area are rare, once-a-century events. But the current level of global warming, caused by human-caused climate change, has made those heat waves 30 times more likely.
If global heating increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) more than pre-industrial levels, then heat waves like this could occur twice in a century and up to once every five years, said Arpita Mondal, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, who was part of the study.
“This is a sign of things to come,” Mondal said.
The results are conservative: An analysis published last week by the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office said the heat wave was probably made 100 times more likely by climate change, with such scorching temperatures likely to reoccur every three years.
The World Weather Attribution analysis is different as it is trying to calculate how specific aspects of the heat wave, such as the length and the region impacted, were made more likely by global warming. “The real result is probably somewhere between ours and the (UK) Met Office result for how much climate change increased this event,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the Imperial College of London, who was also a part of the study.
What is certain, though, is the devastation the heat wave has wreaked. India sweltered through the hottest March in the country since records began in 1901 and April was the warmest on record in Pakistan and parts of India. The effects have been cascading and widespread: A glacier burst in Pakistan, sending floods downstream; the early heat scorched wheat crops in India, forcing it to ban exports to nations reeling from food shortages due to Russia’s war in Ukraine; it also resulted in an early spike in electricity demand in India that depleted coal reserves, resulting in acute power shortages affecting millions.
Then there is the impact on human health. At least 90 people have died in the two nations, but the region’s insufficient death registration means that this is likely an undercount. South Asia is the most affected by heat stress, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of a dataset published Columbia University’s climate school. India alone is home to more than a third of the world’s population that lives in areas where extreme heat is rising.
Experts agree the heat wave underscores the need for the world to not just combat climate change by cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, but to also adapt to its harmful impacts as quickly as possible. Children and the elderly are most at risk from heat stress, but its impact is also inordinately bigger for the poor who may not have access to cooling or water and often live in crowded slums that are hotter than leafier, wealthier neighborhoods.
Rahman Ali, 42, a ragpicker in an eastern suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi earns less than $3 a day by collecting waste from people’s homes and sorting it to salvage whatever can be sold. It’s backbreaking work and his tin-roofed home in the crowded slum offers little respite from the heat.
“What can we do? If I don’t work...we won’t eat,” said the father of two.
Some Indian cities have tried to find solutions. The western city of Ahmedabad was the first in South Asia to design a heat wave plan for its population of over 8.4 million, all the way back in 2013. The plan includes an early warning system that tells health workers and residents to prepare for heat waves, empowers administrations to keep parks open so that people can shade and provides information to schools so they’re able to tweak their schedules.
The city has also been trying to “cool” roofs by experimenting with various materials absorb heat differently. Their aim is to build roofs that’ll reflect the sun and bring down indoor temperatures by using white, reflective paint or cheaper materials like dried grass, said Dr. Dileep Mavalankar, who heads the Indian Institute of Public Health in western Indian city Gandhinagar and helped design the 2013 plan.
Most Indian cities are less prepared and India’s federal government is now working with 130 cities in 23 heat wave-prone states for them to develop similar plans. Earlier this month, the federal government also asked states to sensitize health workers on managing heat-related illnesses and ensure that ice packs, oral rehydration salts, and cooling appliances in hospitals were available.
But Mavalankar, who wasn’t part of the study, pointed to the lack of government warnings in newspapers or TV for most Indian cities and said that local administrations had just not “woken up to the heat.”
 


WHO says no urgent need for mass monkeypox vaccinations

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
Updated 24 May 2022

WHO says no urgent need for mass monkeypox vaccinations

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
  • The primary measures to control the outbreak are contact tracing and isolation, Pebody said, noting that it is not a virus that spreads very easily, nor has it so far caused serious disease

LONDON: The World Health Organization does not believe the monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa requires mass vaccinations as measures like good hygiene and safe sexual behavior will help control its spread, a senior official said on Monday.
Richard Pebody, who leads the high-threat pathogen team at WHO Europe, also told Reuters in an interview that immediate supplies of vaccines and antivirals are relatively limited.
His comments came as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was in the process of releasing some Jynneos vaccine doses for use in monkeypox cases.
Germany’s government said on Monday that it was assessing options for vaccinations, while Britain has offered them to some health care workers.
Public health authorities in Europe and North America are investigating more than 100 suspected and confirmed cases of the viral infection in the worst outbreak of the virus outside of Africa, where it is endemic.
The primary measures to control the outbreak are contact tracing and isolation, Pebody said, noting that it is not a virus that spreads very easily, nor has it so far caused serious disease. The vaccines used to combat monkeypox can have some significant side-effects, he added.
It is unclear what is driving the outbreak, with scientists trying to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything about the virus has changed. There is no evidence the virus has mutated, a senior executive at the UN agency said separately on Monday.
Many — but not all — of the people who have been diagnosed in the current monkeypox outbreak have been men who have sex with men. But that may be because this demographic is likely to seek medical advice or access sexual health screening more readily, the WHO said earlier in the day.
Most of the confirmed cases have not been linked to travel to Africa, which suggests there may be large amounts of undetected cases, said Pebody. Some health authorities suspect there is some degree of community spread.
“So we’re only seeing ... the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Given the pace of the outbreak, and lack of clarity around what is driving it, there has been worry that large events and parties this summer could make things much worse.
“I’m not saying to people don’t have a good time, don’t go to attend these events,” Pebody said.
“It’s rather around what people do at the parties that matters. So it’s about safe sexual behavior, good hygiene, regular hand washing — all these sorts of things will help to limit the transmission of this virus.”