‘It’s a scary thought’: Myanmar arrests medical workers for aiding protesters

Written by By Staff Writer, CNN

Jaty Win, a doctor at Yangon Teaching Hospital, spent some of the week away from the hospital on December 7 to perform haemodialysis on a patient.

But he didn’t expect to return to the same hospital by Wednesday morning, at 6 a.m., handcuffed and detained in front of dozens of other medical professionals.

“My sister has been receiving treatments here since last year (for) kidney problems, and my mother also had a haemodialysis, before we left today,” he said.

According to police, the reason for his arrest was simple. Jaty Win was operating a makeshift clinic that was operating outside of the 2-meter (6.5-foot) official non-government organization (NGO) wall.

“They didn’t have a permit to do the work — the medical workers have to follow rules of the organization and the hospital,” said Myint Khine, a police officer from the Insein district police.

Myanmar police announced Monday (December 10) that it had arrested 18 medical workers for allegedly organizing an unauthorized anti-government protest. Image Credit: Getty Images/AFP

According to the country’s rules of engagement, NGO-run medical clinics are only permitted to provide basic treatment to those in need — which, according to the Wall Street Journal, could not have extended beyond the walls of the medical center where the clinic was operating.

He said the medical workers were collecting donations, too. The police issued seven sedation kits and a hemorrhage bag that was going to be donated to malnourished people.

Medicine is not illegal in Myanmar, but movement is restricted in the country. In most parts of the country, international NGOs must get a permit to operate, but in some areas the local government could decide on its own to allow such clinics to operate.

Jaty Win was operating a makeshift medical clinic outside of the 2-meter anti-government wall in the Myanmar capital Yangon. Image Credit: Getty Images

Authorities claim that the police went to arrest the 18 doctors on Thursday — using intelligence obtained from criminal cells and telephones — but that it happened on Friday when the doctors at the clinic ran out of medicine and went back to collect more, rather than waiting for the arrest.

It is not clear when Jaty Win was arrested.

“I’ve been wanting to work here for the past 3 years, I didn’t have any other option, so I came here to work and assist with the patients,” said Nyin Hla Moe, one of the medical workers.

“We had no choice but to stop because we didn’t have enough medicine, and if we continued working the police would arrest us. We simply decided to stop.”

He continued: “I don’t see any reason why the police are arresting us, our clinic is not selling the medicines we sell — it’s giving medicine for free. We didn’t want to protest, and we haven’t done anything wrong to police. I was arrested so I could be beaten. The police sent me to the sick bed. This was probably the last thing I wanted to do.”

According to Myint Khine, the medical workers were able to obtain help to get medical assistance from an anti-government activist group called Kenyi Ran.

Jaty Win’s fiancée, Shan Ni Min, said her fiancée received a phone call at around 9 p.m. that night from the police. “They asked him what organization he worked for, and that he have any complaints against anyone or had any inside information.”

What happens next?

The arrest is a matter of international concern.

“This is an issue for humanitarian concern,” said Kaset Ruak, a spokesperson for the Medical Association of Myanmar. “Doctors aren’t allowed to carry out any work. They don’t have the right to distribute medications. The government cannot tell them what to do, and it’s very scary for people to think that the government can come take away a human resource at any moment.”

It’s unclear why the medical workers are under arrest, but there have been signs of reform over the past couple of years in the country.

The Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi, the country’s opposition leader, has been in power since May last year.

Police in Naypyitaw have repeatedly denied allegations that they are targeting anti-government activists. There have been widespread calls for an independent investigation into the incident.

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