Junta arrests family members to pressure student dissidents
Rahul Kyaw Kyaw Maung, often known as Kyaw Ko Ko, became involved in politics while doing his masters degree in economics in Yangon in 2006. He was imprisoned twice in 2008 and again in 2015 for his political activities.
He currently serves as a general secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), founded in December 2021 with a membership of young student union officials, young people who began to participate in politics during the spring revolution, labourers and farmers.
His father, U Kyaw Aye (68), was detained on 10 September and sent to Insein Prison immediately after his first court appearance on 22 September, facing charges under Section 505 (a) which criminalises the spreading of false news and incitement against the military.
Other family members have tried to send parcels to U Kyaw Aye in prison. Meeting face to face with prisoners is not easy.
Kyaw Ko Ko has assumed his father’s arrest was the result of the posting, to a pro-military Telegram account run by junta lobbyist Han Nyein Oo, of his father’s address, details of his Facebook account, and photos.
Han Nyein Oo uses his Telegram channel to disclose information about anti-military dissidents, activists and opposition People’s Defence Force supporters, as well as members of the Civil Disobedience Movement which opposes the government through peaceful means. People whose information is leaked on his channel and other similar pro-junta channels have been immediately arrested by the military.
“My father’s acquaintances urged my father to escape to avoid being arrested after the post about him appeared on Telegram. He told them he wasn’t involved in politics and does not do anything related to politics, so he did not need to escape but was still living in the house and was arrested,” Kyaw Ko Ko told University World News.
“When they want a politician or dissident and cannot arrest them, they take their family members hostage, putting pressure on the dissidents to turn up. Family members have to suffer this constant threat if dissidents continue their revolutionary efforts,” Kyaw Ko Ko explained.
‘Revenge’ against dissidents
He said the junta wanted dissidents to go through agony knowing that their family members are in the hands of the military. “It is the junta’s revenge against dissidents,” he said.
An ABFSU executive member told University World News: “This is a tactic the Junta uses. They take the child hostage if they cannot arrest the dissident parent. The parent is taken hostage if they cannot arrest the child.”
Family members of several student union representatives have been detained. A case in point is Ko Min Lwin Oo, former head of the Dawei District Student Union and current head of the Dawei District Strike Committee. When the junta could not arrest him, they went to his father’s village and arrested his father on 19 June this year.
The court sentenced his father, U Aung Pe (61), to two years in prison on 23 August after he was charged under Section 505 (a). The junta also issued an arrest warrant for Ko Min Lwin Oo with a reward of MMK30 million (US$14,200).
According to ABFSU, there have also been cases of the junta arresting student union representatives along with family members.
“Student unions are organisations that connect young people with politics. Successive military regimes have never looked favourably on student unions, and they have steadily suppressed Generation Z and student union representatives,” U Nay Phone Latt, spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s Office of the Myanmar National Unity Government, made up of democrats in exile, told University World News.
“Anyone involved with a student union lives and works covertly because they risk being imprisoned if they belong to a student union. The junta has brutally suppressed student union representatives who are not even equipped with a needle (let alone weapons). Since then, security has taken precedence,” the ABFSU executive member said.
Approximately 17 student union representatives have been killed since February 2021 according to ABFSU.
Kyaw Ko Ko said he cut off contact with his family after March 2021 when he left Yangon for an area outside of the control of the junta. He had not called his family or sent letters or gifts in the past two years. He only heard about his family from others.
He did not tell his family where he was and what he was doing in case one of his family members was arrested and tortured.
“Young people in the jungle have freedom to some extent, but their family members who are still in the towns are always under threat and in fear,” Kyaw Ko Ko said. “I understand that they live in constant worry. They appear to be anticipating the day the junta will arrive to arrest them.”
Some young dissidents’ families have fled or migrated abroad, while others have sought safety in areas not under junta control. Those who cannot afford to leave have had to remain where they are.