Win Hlaing, 66, says he only wants to know if his son is alive over a year after he was last spotted being taken away by Myanmar junta troops.
The backstory: Last April, a neighbour called to inform him that his son, Wai Soe Hlaing, a young father who managed a phone shop in Yangon, had been arrested in connection with protests against the military coup on February 1.
- According to Win Hlaing and The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit that has been chronicling arrests and killings, they tracked the 31-year-old to a local police station.
- The trail then became icy. He was no longer there.
- The junta’s spokesman did not respond to emailed demands for comment and did not pick up the phone.
- Wai Soe Hlaing is one of many persons who activists and relatives claim have vanished since Myanmar was thrown into chaos when the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic administration.
Facts and figures: According to the AAPP, over 8,000 individuals are incarcerated in prisons and interrogation centres, including Suu Kyi and the majority of her cabinet, and about 1,500 people have been slain. The data from the AAPP could not be independently verified by Reuters.
- Hundreds of people are said to have died as a result of being held. The figures are overstated, according to the junta, and the AAPP disseminate incorrect information.
- The number of those detained by the junta has not been revealed.
- Families laboriously search for their relatives by calling and visiting police stations and prisons, or relying on accounts from local media or human rights organisations, because the military does not notify relatives when a person is arrested, and prison officials often do not do so when they arrive in jail.
- According to a Human Rights Watch research, they sometimes send food boxes and consider it as an indication that their relative is being kept there if the delivery is accepted.
- In many cases, according to AAPP co-founder Bo Kyi, the organisation has been able to determine who has been held but not where they have been detained.
What they’re saying: The chair of the United Nations’ working group on enforced disappearances, Tae-Ung Baik, said that the committee had received allegations of enforced disappearances from families in Myanmar since February and was “extremely worried” by the situation.
- Aung Nay Myo, a 43-year-old activist who escaped the northeastern Sagaing district, said junta troops abducted his parents and siblings from their house in mid-December and he has no idea where they are.
- They were held, he says, because of his job as a sarcastic writer. His 74-year-old father, who has been incapacitated by a stroke, is one of them.
- “There is nothing I can do but worry every moment,” Aung Nay Myo said.
- Two police stations in Monywa, their hometown in the Sagaing area, did not respond to requests for comment.
What’s going on: According to the United Nations, resistance to the junta has spiralled into bloodshed in some areas, displacing tens of thousands of people across the country. Thousands of people have fled to Thailand and India.
- At least 50 people are missing in northeastern Kayah state, where fighting has been fierce, according to Banyar Khun Naung, director of the non-profit Karenni Human Rights Group.
- The group is attempting to assist families in their search by asking recently released prisoners if they recognised any names.
- Pascalal, Myint Aung’s 17-year-old son, went missing in September, according to Myint Aung, who is now in his mid-50s and lives in a camp for internally displaced people in Kayah.
- Myint Aung claimed the boy told his father he was going to check on the situation at their home in the state capital of Loikaw, but he never returned.
- Instead, he was apprehended by security forces, Myint Aung said over the phone, citing information from nearby people. When he went to deliver meals to the station, he discovered soldiers guarding the area and fled.
- Myint Aung hasn’t heard from his son since then, but according to the rights group, he’s no longer in the police station, citing conversations with numerous recently liberated people.
- The teenager was one of two young men pictured making the “Hunger Games” salute adopted by protesters as they were detained kneeling by the side of a road, lashed together with rope by a soldier, in an image widely circulated on social media, according to Banyar Khun Naung, director of the Karenni rights group. Pascalal was confirmed by his sister over the phone.
- “While we let them do what they want before we put bullets in their heads,” said the description on a viral post from an account that purported to belong to a high-ranking soldier. The account was then deactivated.
- “He’s an underage civilian boy and he didn’t do anything wrong,” his father Myint Aung said.
- Police in Loikaw did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
- In Yangon, the family of Wai Soe Hlaing tell his four-year-old daughter her father is working somewhere far away. Sometimes, Win Hlaing said, she murmurs about him: “My papa has been gone too long.”