Bangkok — Burma’s military junta has stepped up detentions of its political opponents and social activists in recent weeks, with as many as 50 people arrested in the last month, according to activists and residents.
“In recent days, they have been arresting mainly journalists and former prisoners,” said Ko Tak Naing, secretary of the rights group Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP), which is based in the Thai-Burmese border region.
“Amongst the journalists, we are certain at least 10 have been arrested,” he said.
“They are journalists such as Ko Soe Moe, Ko Nyi Nyi Tun, and Khan Min Htet, who have been arrested in the last few days.”
While activists and local people are unsure of the reason behind the apparent crackdown, some say it is linked to stepped-up security measures around the former capital, Rangoon.
Other reported detainees included two young journalists and seven young men who were actively involved in private relief efforts in the wake of last year’s devastating Tropical Cyclone Nargis.
Journalists Ko Thant Zin Soe from The Voice weekly magazine and freelance journalist Ko Paing Soe Oo are believed to have been detained around midnight on Oct. 27, sources in Rangoon said.
Further detentions were reported at Rangoon’s Cultural University, according to a resident there.
“They all live in the Sittaung housing estate in the Yuzana Garden city,” said a woman at the university.
“They were all students attending the university.”
At first the detentions were linked to the students’ failure to register as overnight guests, but local authorities denied carrying out any inspections in the area, she said.
“We don’t know why they say this. But they did take the youths away,” she said.
The seven students are all believed to have been working with a social organization called Lin Let Kyair, formed two years ago after Nargis killed an estimated 140,000 people.
Villagers in the worst-hit regions said they have been unable to rebuild their lives in the wake of the storm, which left millions with no home or livelihood.
Local and overseas aid workers said Burma’s ruling military junta deliberately blocked aid to victims of Nargis, and failed to ensure that fields were ploughed in time for the harvest. It has also jailed a number of private citizens, some of them well-known, for aiding cyclone victims.
Lin Let Kyair is a nonprofit voluntary social organization that has been helping victims in poverty-stricken villages to dig wells, build schools and libraries, and provide educational assistance for children.
Rangoon residents said a series of checkpoints had been springing up around Rangoon in recent weeks, with travelers and former political prisoners under close surveillance.
“In recent days the police have been stopping cars and checking them out in front of the Tamwe High School,” said the Rangoon resident who lives near the Cultural University.
“They have been asked to open their trunks. Also at the entrance to Yuzana Garden they would stop cars and inspect the belongings of the occupants,” she said.
“They are doing the same at the Central Mall, and in Rangoon at the traffic light at the front of the [opposition National League for Democracy] office,” she added.
Authorities were also keeping a close watch on the activities of 7,000 former prisoners, especially those who were political prisoners, who were released in a recent amnesty.
“Their houses have been specifically picked for search and inspection by the police,” she said.
Original reporting in Burmese by Ingjin Naing and Son Moe Wai. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.