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.”


Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

Updated 13 sec ago

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed
NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of A.G. Perarivalan, who was convicted of involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Gandhi was killed by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in an election in the southern Indian town of Sriperumbudur in May 1991. His killing was seen as an act of retaliation after he sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987.
Perarivalan was convicted in 1991 of purchasing the batteries used to detonate the bomb that killed Gandhi.
In May 2021, the Tamil Nadu state government allowed Perarivalan to leave on parole, using a provision in the Tamil Nadu Prison manual.
The Supreme Court took a lenient view of Perarivalan, saying he was 19 years old at the time of arrest and had been jailed for over 30 years, including 16 years on death row and 29 years in solitary confinement.
Speaking to the Indian Express newspaper on Wednesday, Perarivalan recalled years spent in a cramped 6 feet (1.8 m) by 9 feet (2.7 m) cell during his time in solitary confinement.
“A room in which I had nothing but empty walls to look at,” he said, describing obsessively counting bricks on the wall, measuring the door and bolts and imagining smells he craved.
Six others people, including a woman, are still in jail and are awaiting a verdict in the case.
The court said Perarivalan was released after considering his “satisfactory conduct in jail and during parole” and “chronic ailments.”
Gandhi’s widow, Sonia, is head of India’s main opposition Congress party while their son, Rahul, has been leading its campaign for elections. A Congress party spokesman said on Wednesday the party was deeply saddened by the court’s decision.
Many in the state of Tamil Nadu celebrated the verdict as a victory for human rights.
“My best wishes and warm welcome to Perarivalan who is set to fully breathe the air of liberation after more than 30 years of imprisonment,” Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin tweeted.

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters
Updated 55 min 44 sec ago

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters

Sri Lankan police arrest ruling party MPs over deadly attacks on protesters
  • Detectives detained SLPP MPs Milan Jayathilake, Sanath Nishantha and four other high-ranking officials on Tuesday
  • Suspects allegedly involved in deaths of demonstrators from the ‘Gota go gama’ and ‘Myna go gama’ movement who seek change in crisis-hit nation

COLOMBO: Two Sri Lankan ruling party lawmakers have been arrested on charges of involvement in attacks on anti-government protesters, a top police official said on Wednesday.

For over a month, citizens have been protesting across Sri Lanka, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his prime minister brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom they blame for the country’s worst economic crisis.

The prime minister resigned last week, after supporters of the Rajapaksas attacked demonstrators in Colombo. The violence left nine people dead and wounded nearly 300, leading to days of unrest.

The two lawmakers from President Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party were arrested, after a criminal investigation, on Tuesday evening and have been remanded by the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s court until May 25.

“As a result of the investigations, the detectives arrested SLPP MPs Milan Jayathilake and Sanath Nishantha on Tuesday,” Senior Superintendent of Police Nihal Thalduwa told Arab News.

He added that another four high-ranking officials were also detained “over their involvement in the attacks on the ‘Gota go gama’ and ‘Myna go gama’ peaceful protest sites.”

“Gota go gama” and “Myna go gama” are popular slogans among protesters. “Gota” is a reference to President Rajapaksa, while “Myna” to his ex-PM brother. The “go gama,” literally “go village,” is a call on them to leave and go home.

Thalduwa said 883 people have been arrested over the violence that shook the island nation between May 9 and May 11, leading to the deployment of troops in many parts of the country to impose a curfew that was only lifted on Wednesday morning.

Protesters continued to demonstrate outside the president’s office in Colombo, demanding he resign, as the country is struggling with its worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

Acute shortages of food, fuel, and essential medicines have been accompanied by record inflation and long power cuts for the past few months.

The new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed last week, said in a televised speech on Monday evening that the country urgently needed about $75 billion to help provide the nation with essential items, but its treasury was struggling to find even $1 billion.


Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India
Updated 18 May 2022

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India

Deadly floods trap 400,000 people in northeast India
  • At least 8 people have been killed in the deluge
  • More heavy rain is expected in the region this week

NEW DELHI: More than 400,000 people in northeastern India have been hit by deadly floods triggered by pre-monsoon downpours, authorities said on Wednesday, as they brace for more heavy rain.

Rescue and evacuation efforts were ongoing as incessant rains and landslides affected communication lines, as well as road and railway networks in most of Assam state in the last few days.

At least eight people have been killed by the floods, according to local media reports.

“The total number of people impacted is around 4 lakh (400,000),” Gyanendra Dev Tripathi, chief executive at the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, told Arab News.

“Hopefully, we will be able to tackle this situation,” he added. “We are ready for the worst possible scenario.”

The flooding has been worst in the districts of Cachar and Hojai.

“In Hojai district alone, at least 100 villages are submerged, which means more than 50 percent of villages are under water. At least 40,000 to 50,000 people in this area are impacted,” Ashraful Amin, a social worker in the region, told Arab News.

He estimated that around 70 percent of the people were still trapped in the flood zone. The military has already joined the rescue operation.

“Since yesterday, we have been trying to reach out to the affected people on wooden boats,” he said. “The army has started rescuing people today.”

Landslides have cut off the southern part of the state from rail connectivity.

“We have 50 bridge points where landslides have damaged the tracks,” Sabyasachi De, spokesperson for North Eastern Frontier Railway, said. “These are unprecedented landslides, cloudbursts and flash floods. We have not seen anything like this so far.”

India’s weather agency has issued a red alert notice for Assam, as heavy rain is expected in the region for the next three days.

More rainfall is expected as monsoon downpours are yet to hit the region, R. K. Jenamani, a senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department, told Arab News.

“The havoc has been caused by flash floods. It’s not the normal monsoon,” he said. “The monsoon has yet to hit India.”


Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
Updated 18 May 2022

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
  • Biker, vlogger Abrar Hassan has traveled to over 80 countries, 13 on his motorcycle
  • “Warm welcome” received in Makkah, Madinah compelled him to explore other Saudi cities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan had already traveled to more than 80 countries, at least 12 of them on his motorcycle, by the time he decided this year it was time to pursue possibly his greatest dream — a bike ride to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

On Feb. 9, Hassan set out from his hometown of Nankana Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province, embarking on a journey that entailed crossing three continents and riding for 50 days before he arrived in Madinah on March 27. From there, he went to Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, and performed Umrah.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on April 5, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

“It was always my dream (to travel to Saudi Arabia on a motorbike) and it came true this year,” Hassan, a mechanical engineer with a German automotive company, told Arab News in video messages from Madinah.

“There are probably some feelings you can’t describe in words ... So, everything has been surreal for me, and I absolutely loved every single moment of it.”

Hassan, who has loved adventure and photography since he was a child, said it was an “amazing experience” to cross multiple borders and meet so many people along the way. But he pointed out that the special blessing was to arrive in Madinah just a few days before the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan and keep the first fast of the year there.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits Wadi Al-Baida in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on May 10, 2022. (Abrar Hassan) 

And he thanked the people of Saudi Arabia for the “warm welcome” given to him and the love he had received. He noted that one memorable experience had taken place soon after he entered the Kingdom and involved a group of women selling tea.

“When they came to know that I was traveling on a motorcycle from Pakistan to perform Umrah, they didn’t take any money from me and said, ‘you are our guest,’” he said.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan passes through the Iraqi city of Uruk on his way to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on March 11, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

A video of Hassan’s interaction with the women went viral on the internet and gained him fame in the country. “Whenever I go out with my motorcycle ... the support and love I am receiving right now is just incredible,” he added.

The affection compelled Hassan to extend his stay in the Kingdom and explore other cities.

“I have visited Riyadh, Madinah, and Makkah so far, but in the next few days I am starting my travel to different cities of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I am going to Jeddah, Abha, Al-Bahah, Jazan, and AlUla near the Jordan border.”


Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’
Updated 18 May 2022

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’
  • The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano
  • She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups

GENEVA: Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday they had indicted a woman for attempted murder on behalf of Daesh group over a brutal knife attack in November 2020.
The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano.
She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups, according to the indictment. She was also charged with unlawful prostitution.
The attorney general’s office said the indictment related to an ‘extremist knife attack’ and the alleged assailant, a Swiss citizen, “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of Daesh.”
“The suspect acted willfully and with particular ruthlessness. She brutally attacked her randomly-selected victims with a knife, with the aim of killing them and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Daesh’,” it said.
One of the two victims sustained serious neck injuries while the second victim, with help from others at the scene, managed to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.
The attacker was arrested and detained.
Police quickly discovered she had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.
The woman had formed a relationship on social media with an extremist fighter in Syria and attempted to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, police alleged at the time.
She was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, they said, adding that the woman had suffered from mental health problems and been admitted to a psychiatric clinic.