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Saw Lin Htet, an ethnic Karen student from Myanmar currently studying at Mahidol University, has been arrested in Myanmar after joining an anti-coup protest while conducting research, and has not been heard from since.   

Saw Lin Htet (Photo from Free Saw Lin)

Saw Lin Htet is a student in the Human Rights and Democratisation master’s degree programme at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), Mahidol University. IHRP lecturer Bencharat Sae Chua said that he returned to his home country to conduct research for his thesis. While in Myanmar, he also joined anti-coup protests after the Myanmar military took power on 1 February 2021.

Bencharat said she was informed that Saw Lin Htet was arrested on 23 March 2021, while driving home in Hpa-An, the capital city of Karen State, with his 4-year-old daughter. He was stopped by military officers, who searched his car without presenting a warrant and arrested him after they found anti-government material.

He was accused of inciting violence against the state under Section 505 of Myanmar’s Criminal Code, which carries a prison sentence of up to 3 years.

He was taken to court on 6 April 2021, but his trial was not heard as there were too many cases. However, that evening, his wife noticed that he was not in the prisoner bus returning to prison, so she went to search for him both at the prison and at the police station, but no officer was able to tell her where he is. He has not been heard from since.

Saw Lin Htet’s family and friends are now concerned for his wellbeing. Bencharat said a petition has been filed with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, and that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights received the petition on 9 April. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter are in hiding out of fear that they are in danger from state officials.

His classmates at Mahidol University have also set up the Facebook page “Free Saw Lin” to call attention to his arrest and disappearance. On 9 April, they also issued a statement raising concerns about Saw Lin Htet’s wellbeing and calling on the Myanmar government to guarantee the rights Saw Lin Htet and other political detainees, as well as to allow them the right to be represented by a lawyer and to have a fair trial.

“We gravely fear for the condition of Saw Lin, who as of this moment remains under incommunicado detention,” says the statement. “Saw Lin’s current physical health is fragile since he is a survivor of childhood tuberculosis. His lack of consistent access to lawyers and his family clear violates his rights as an accused and person deprived of liberty.

“We appeal to the Government of the Union of Myanmar to allow Saw Lin, along with other political detainees, to have their rights guaranteed under the law. We request that they are granted access to justice, be represented by their counsels, and have a fair trial.”

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