The AA must release MP U Hawi Tin

The Arakan Army has nothing to gain from prolonging the detention of an Upper House lawmaker from Chin State, about whom nothing is known since he was abducted two months ago.

By SALAI ZA UK LING | FRONTIER

TODAY marks two months since the Arakan Army abducted and detained Amyotha Hluttaw MP U Hawi Tin, who represents the upper house constituency of Chin-11 in southern Chin State for the National League of Democracy.

Denied any contact with the outside world since he was abducted in neighbouring Rakhine State while en route to Nay Pyi Taw, the family and friends of the ethnic Chin lawmaker are gravely concerned about his health and well-being in AA custody.

The AA has refused to give any indication of when or if Hawi Tin will be released. The ethnic armed group’s spokesperson, U Khine Thukha, has said Hawi Tin posed a danger to AA troops because he had been informing the Myanmar military about their movements. The AA has also refused to provide any publicly available evidence, audio or visual, to show that Hawi Tin is alive or well. The release of such evidence has been one of the main demands of his family and dozens of human rights and civil society groups.

Hawi Tin’s abduction has also attracted international criticism, including from Amnesty International and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, whose joint statement on November 21 called on the AA to immediately release the lawmaker. Hawi Tin’s predicament also attracted surprise attention in the Australian parliament, where on November 27 senior Liberal senator Dean Smith called on the Australian government “to fight and argue for the safekeeping of this Chin member of the Burmese upper house”.

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The fact that the AA still refuses to release Hawi Tin two months after he was abducted is cause for alarm, because many other civilians have disappeared under similar circumstances after they were detained by the group, some for more than a year. At least 13 Chin civilians remain unaccounted for after they were abducted by the AA in various incidents last year.

U Ye Thein, the NLD branch chair in northern Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township who was abducted by the AA on December 11, was reportedly killed on Christmas Day while still in the armed group’s custody. The AA said Ye Thein was killed when the Myanmar military bombarded the outpost where he was being detained. However, a Myanmar military spokesperson disputed the AA’s account, saying no such attack had taken place.

No matter how or by whose hands he was killed, Ye Thein’s death in AA custody is a tragedy. It is the AA alone which owes an answer to Ye Thein’s family and loved ones, and to the public. The AA must know that it has a well-established duty of care under international law for those it abducts for political reasons. Claiming to be acting in the name of revolution, under which innocent people must inevitably pay the ultimate price, is not a valid excuse.

Contrary to the well-known sayings, in these circumstances, the end does not justify the means, and all is not “fair” in war. Public frustration is growing and anger is simmering. The AA has nothing to gain from prolonging the detention of Hawi Tin.

By continuing to detain him, the AA risks losing what little is left of its reputation as an organisation fighting for a noble political ideal. Rather than earning public support and sympathy outside of its existing sphere of influence, the AA has managed to turn itself into a feared organisation. The AA has also increasingly earned notoriety in the international community for resorting to unconventional warfare tactics, including the abduction and enforced disappearance of civil servants and innocent civilians, and threats and intimidation against human rights defenders. Such tactics, as described elsewhere, resemble the craven acts of terror and not revolution.

Two months is two months too long. AA should release Hawi Tin now.

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