Authorities Should Follow Rule of Law, Say Rakhine Locals, MPs

The Burma Army’s latest spate of arrests has raised fears of growing instability in Rakhine State.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Local people and MPs in Rakhine State are calling on the Burma Army and other authorities to follow existing laws when they take action against people living in conflict-affected areas of the state.

“They need to respect existing laws, which don’t allow the authorities to threaten, torture and arrest people without restraint. They should investigate people in line with existing laws,” said upper house MP Khin Maung Latt.

“If they don’t respect the law, we are worried about instability in our region. Many people are living in fear. So they need to respect rule of law,” he added.

The authorities in Ponnagyun Township recently arrested 11 local people, including 10 youths and a driver, on suspicion of having links to the Arakan Army (AA).

The office of the armed forces commander-in-chief reported on July 28 that these Rakhine youths are being detained in Ponnagyun Myoma police station. According to a police investigation, eight of the youths were planning to join the AA and are now facing charges under the Counter-Terrorism Law.

According to MP Khin Maung Latt, existing laws don’t allow the authorities to arrest suspects without just cause.

“They can’t just arrest people based on suspicions. They must have a proven reason. The law doesn’t give the authorities the right to arrest people whenever they want. They should not have arrested 10 people just to get at one suspect, Khin Maung Latt told NMG.

According to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC), a local civil society organization, the Burma Army doesn’t respect the law, which means that local people feel they have no legal protection.

“When we look at the actions of the Tatmadaw [Burma Army], we can see that they don’t respect existing laws. They do whatever they want. In recent days, two people were shot. One has already died and the other is receiving medical treatment in hospital. They burned down some villages. These are lawless actions. The government doesn’t stop them. The international community can’t take action against them, either. Therefore, local people feel that they are not protected by law,” said REC secretary Zaw Zaw Tun.
Zaw Zaw Tun also dismissed the army’s claims that the 10 youths who were arrested in Ponnagyun were AA recruits.

“Some of the detainees were very young, just teenagers. I don’t think they were planning to join the AA. They were just arrested along with the suspects. I think the Tatmadaw just arrested everyone in the car, even though there were only one or two suspects,” Zaw Zaw Tun said.

According to the Burma Army, 90 people suspected of having links to the AA have been arrested between last December and the beginning of this month. Thirty-six suspects are currently under investigation. Eight have been released without charge, 45 are facing trial, and three have been sentenced to prison.