Former British Ambassador Is Arrested in Myanmar

Myanmar’s military regime has arrested a former British ambassador and her Burmese husband, charging them both with violating immigration law, according to two people with knowledge of their situation.

The former ambassador, Vicky Bowman, 56, and her husband, the artist Ko Htein Lin, 55, were arrested on Wednesday evening at their house in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and taken to the notorious Insein Prison, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested. They face up to five years in prison.

Ms. Bowman, who was ambassador to Myanmar from 2002 to 2006, now heads the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business, an organization she founded in 2013 aimed at encouraging companies to adhere to international human rights standards.

Mr. Htein Lin is a well-known artist who was held as a political prisoner for more than six years under an earlier military regime. By the time he was released in 2004, he had smuggled out 300 paintings and sculptures that he had produced while in prison. The couple, who met while she was ambassador, left Myanmar in 2006 but returned a decade ago. They have a 14-year-old daughter.

Britain’s foreign office released a statement saying only, “We are concerned by the arrest of a British woman in Myanmar. We are in contact with the local authorities and are providing consular assistance.”

Understanding the Coup in Myanmar

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Understanding the Coup in Myanmar

A military coup. Following a military coup on Feb. 1, 2021, unrest gripped Myanmar. Peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations gave way to insurgent uprisings against the Tatmadaw, the country’s military, which ousted the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Understanding the Coup in Myanmar

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is a polarizing figure. The daughter of a hero of Myanmar’s independence, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi remains very popular at home. Internationally, her reputation has been tarnished by her recent cooperation with the same military generals who ousted her.

Understanding the Coup in Myanmar

The coup ended a short span of quasi-democracy. In 2011, the Tatmadaw implemented parliamentary elections and other reforms. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi came to power as state counselor in 2016, becoming the country’s de facto head of government.

Understanding the Coup in Myanmar

The coup was preceded by a contested election. In November 2020, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 83 percent of the body’s available seats. The military, whose proxy party suffered a crushing defeat, refused to accept the results of the vote.

Understanding the Coup in Myanmar

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi faces years in prison. The ousted leader has been sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison so far, with many more charges pending against her. The U.N., foreign governments and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s defenders have described the charges as politically motivated.

Understanding the Coup in Myanmar

The regime is cracking down on dissent. A rights organization that monitors detentions in Myanmar said in March that the military junta  is  detaining 10,000 political prisoners. In July, the regime said it had executed four pro-democracy activists, the country’s first executions in more than 30 years.

A spokesman for the regime did not answer repeated calls seeking comment.

The Myanmar military seized power in a coup last year and has since staged a bloody crackdown on the population, shooting civilians, burning villages, raping women and bombing jungle encampments. More than 15,200 people have been arrested, including more than 12,100 who remain in prison.

Among those arrested have been a handful of foreigners, including an American journalist, Danny Fenster, who was released in November after serving nearly six months in prison. Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to the state counselor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is being tried alongside her on charges of violating the official secrets act.

The United States and Britain have imposed economic sanctions on the regime, but some nations have continued providing support, particularly Russia, a major supplier of arms that also has begun selling gasoline and diesel fuel to the junta.

Mark Farmaner, director of the human rights group Burma Campaign UK, called Ms. Bowman’s detention “shocking and surprising news.”

“Vicky is no friend of the Burmese military, but she has been careful not to make public comments attacking the military,” he said. “She has opposed some of the sanctions on the military in the past. It’s unclear why the military is targeting Vicky now.”

He added, “If this is hostage diplomacy, the British government must not allow it to succeed. These arrests are an example of why more pressure is needed, not less.”

On Thursday morning, hours after Ms. Bowman’s arrest, Britain announced that it was imposing new economic sanctions against companies linked to the Myanmar military, including Sky One Construction Company Ltd., which is owned by Ko Aung Pyae Sone, the son of the junta leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Britain said the sanctions were aimed at limiting the regime’s access to arms and revenue.

The timing of the arrests appeared to be coincidental.

Britain also announced that it would seek to intervene in a case brought by Gambia at the International Court of Justice accusing Myanmar of violating the United Nations’ Genocide Convention for atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.

“The U.K. will always face down those who seek to undermine and destroy our values of freedom and democracy,” Amanda Milling, the minister of state for Asia, said in announcing the new measures.

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