Home Myanmar Watch Possible enforced disappearance of Myanmar activist and family: Urgent probe needed

Possible enforced disappearance of Myanmar activist and family: Urgent probe needed

Myanmar refugee activist Thuzar Maung with her husband Saw Than Tin Win, who were abducted along with her three children from their home in Kuala Lumpur on 4 July 2023

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Malaysian Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is concerned about Malaysia’s and the Malaysian police’s diligence in investigating the incident of 4 July, when human rights defender Thuzar Maung, 46, her husband Saw Than Tin Win, 43, her daughter Poeh Khing Maung, 16, and sons Aung Myint Maung, 21, and Thukha Maung,17, were possibly ‘enforced disappeared’ from their home in Kuala Lumpur.

If the Malaysian authorities fail “to investigate the case ‘diligently and seriously’ (and) had hampered the progress (of the investigation)”, it may be evidence of enforced disappearance.

It was reported that all five are UN refugee agency-recognised refugees and have been in Malaysia since 2015, when they fled from Myanmar to escape persecution and growing violence against Muslims.

Thuzar Maung, also spelled Thu Zar Moung, is an outspoken supporter of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement. She is also the chair of the Myanmar Muslim Refugee Community and the Myanmar Migrant Workers Committee.

According to a Human Rights Watch statement:

On July 4, 2023, unidentified men abducted Thuzar Maung, 46; her husband, Saw Than Tin Win, 43; her daughter, Poeh Khing Maung, 16; and sons Aung Myint Maung, 21, and Thukha Maung, 17, from their residence in Ampang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, based on reports from witnesses and CCTV footage. Thuzar Maung, also spelled Thu Zar Moung, is an outspoken supporter of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement…

….At about 4:30 p.m. on July 4, a car entered the gated community where the family lives. The driver told the security guards they were police. Two hours later, Thuzar Maung was on the phone with a friend, who heard her yell to her husband that unknown men were entering the house, before being disconnected. At about 7:10 p.m., the same car and the two cars owned by Thuzar Maung’s family were seen leaving the compound. Thuzar Maung’s phone and the phones of her husband and children appear to have been immediately turned off, as no calls have gone through since….

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CCTV footage at the guard booth captured the license plate of the “police” car, which Malaysian police have since identified as fake. The footage also captured a black-gloved hand of the driver of one of Thuzar Maung’s cars holding out the gate card to exit the compound. Vehicle logs show that the same car had entered the gated community on June 19. Thuzar Maung’s colleagues who entered the house on July 5 said there were no signs of robbery…

Enforced disappearance?

This may be a case of enforced disappearance whereby the disappearance was done by agents of the state (like the police, etc) or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the state.

Human Rights Watch, in its statement, said the driver of the car that was used told the security guards they were police. The perpetrators could also be ‘agents’ of Myanmar, acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of Malaysia.

Alternatively, it could be kidnapping or abduction by criminals.

Hence, Madpet is of concern that the Malaysian police is only taking this case as a missing persons case. “The investigation has been opened under the Missing Persons’ KEP,” Selangor police chief Hussein Omar Khan said when contacted on Monday, 17 July.

Based on the allegations in the Human Rights Watch statement, it is more than a missing persons case, but may include kidnapping and even the crime of impersonating the police.

As it involves refugees from Myanmar, it is of not just national but international concern. Investigations must also prove that Malaysia was not involved directly or indirectly, and there has been no violation of the principle of non-refoulement. The five must be found speedily.

Other cases

Madpet notes sadly that Malaysia to date has still not managed to find Pastor Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu -all victims of enforced disappearance according to the findings of the Malaysian human right commission, Suhakam.

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In the case of Koh and Amri, Suhakam after an inquiry concluded it was an enforced disappearance and that the police were behind it.

Commissioner Datuk Mah Weng Kwai [a former judge] said its decision was based on the findings of its panel that had been looking into Koh’s abduction, which took place on February 13, 2017. “The direct and circumstantial evidence in Pastor Raymond Koh’s case proves, on a balance of probabilities, that he was abducted by State agents namely, the Special Branch, Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur…

In the case of the enforced disappearance of Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, last seen in November 2016, Suhakam after the inquiry said it did not find evidence that the that the pastor and his wife were abducted by “agents of the state”.

Suhakam commissioner Mohd Hishamudin Yunus [a former judge], who chaired the inquiry, said their disappearance was carried out by “a person or more than a person unknown with acquiescence of the authorities”.

Their involuntary disappearance breached the laws of Malaysia… However, (although) we did not find evidence that they were abducted by agents of the state, yet the authorities failed to investigate the case ‘diligently and seriously’ (and) had hampered the progress (of the investigation),” he said.

All four remain missing to date.

Hiding of truth?

Following Suhakam’s finding of enforced disappearance of Koh and Amri, sadly the government’s response was not to commence investigation and prosecution, but to set up a taskforce to investigate Suhakam’s conclusions. It was given six months to complete its report.

Then the taskforce report was classified secret under the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), and remains classified. Why? What is the government hiding?

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On 9 May Justice Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh ordered that the report – which was classified under the OSA – should be released to Amri’s wife and her lawyer, prohibiting them from disclosing the report to any members of the public.

Why was the government wanting to keep it secret?

“A general assertion that the report, if disclosed, would allow criminals and enemies of the state to take advantage of the police operation is insufficient,” he [Justice Wan Ahmad Farid] said in the online proceedings here on Tuesday (May 9).

Madpet notes sadly, that the state has now appealed this High Court order and has also obtained an order staying the release of the report pending the disposal of appeal.

Madpet calls for a speedy, comprehensive and transparent investigation into the possible enforced disappearance of Thuzar Maung, Saw Than Tin Win, Poeh Khing Maung, Aung Myint Maung and Thukha Maung. There should be ‘no secrets’ or use of the OSA to hide the revelation of truth or to protect agents of the state or the state itself.

Madpet calls for disclosure on the stage of the investigation into the enforced disappearance of Koh, Amri, Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, Will there be any prosecution? Are there other facts of the case that are being kept secret using the OSA for reasons like to not  “allow criminals and enemies of the state to take advantage of the police operation”?

Madpet calls for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan-led government, which promised reforms, to immediately repeal the OSA and to end the government culture of ‘secrecy’ in favour of transparency and accountability.

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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