By HANNA HINDSTROM
A prominent Rohingya human rights activist and interpreter, who has helped many international journalists travelling to the conflict-torn Arakan state in western Burma, was detained by authorities in Sittwe on Tuesday morning, local police have confirmed.
Aung Win, an ethnic Rohingya with Burmese citizenship, was arrested around 10am this morning on his way to Sittwe’s Muslim quarter, Aung Mingalar. Local sources say he was hoping to meet with the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Quintana, who was visiting the state-capital as part of his latest Burma tour.
Local police told DVB that he was “found walking in the streets” and taken to “the station for his own safety”. They alleged that he has since been released and returned to his home village on the outskirts of Sittwe. But local sources said they had been told by a police officer that he would not be released until 6pm and that his detention was specifically designed to prevent him from meeting Quintana. At the time of writing, Aung Win could still not be reached by telephone.
Aung Win has helped a number of international media groups, including DVB, travel to the restive state in western Burma, where sectarian clashes pitted Buddhists against the stateless Rohingya minority last year. Local sources say that over 25,000 Burmese army troops have since been deployed to the region to enforce segregation between the two communities.
“Apparently he did want to talk to Mr Quintana but it is unclear whether that alone would be the reason for his arrest,” Chris Lewa from the Arakan Project told DVB on Tuesday. Aung Win is an outspoken critic of the treatment of Rohingyas in western Burma, and has featured in several international media reports about last year’s violence.
Since the first outbreak of clashes in June last year, more than 1,600 Rohingya Muslims have been arrested, including many community leaders with ties to the international media. His detention comes less than a day after DVB published allegations of widespread abuse and torture targeting detained Rohingya in Arakan state.
A spokesperson for the UN Office for the Commission of Human Rights in Bangkok told DVB that they had “just received information” of Aung Win’s arrest and were trying to make contact with Quintana to discuss the allegations. The Special Rapporteur is spending a week travelling through Burma, including the volatile Kachin and Arakan states, in a bid to assess the country’s human rights situation.
Some 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in western Burma, where they are denied basic rights, including citizenship and have been described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
President Thein Sein has been widely lauded for introducing a series of democratic reforms in the country since March 2011, including freeing political prisoners and easing media restrictions. But analysts say that progress has been mixed, especially in ethnic minority regions.