A court controlled by Myanmar’s military council sentenced UK ex-ambassador Vicky Bowman and her Burmese husband Htein Lin to one year in prison on Friday for violating the country’s immigration laws, according to a source familiar with the case.
The ruling comes more than one week after the couple was arrested at their home in Yangon’s Sanchaung Township on August 24 and later taken to the city’s notorious Insein Prison.
Bowman was charged under Article 13(1) of the Immigration Act for violating the terms of her visa. Her husband, renowned artist and former dissident Htein Lin, was found guilty under Article 13(5) of the same law for abetting Bowman’s violation.
The couple appeared at a court inside Insein Prison on Thursday for a hearing.
The charges against Bowman, who served as the UK’s ambassador to Myanmar from 2002 to 2006, stemmed from her failure to correctly register her place of residence in the country.
Vicky Bowman and her Burmese husband Htein Lin face up to five years in prison for allegedly violating visa terms
In a statement released last Thursday, the junta said that although she was officially listed as living in the couple’s Yangon home, she had actually been residing in a house owned by Htein Lin in Kalaw, Shan State, from May 2021 until early last month.
Their arrests came amid growing diplomatic tensions between the UK government and the military regime that seized power in the February 2021 coup.
Hours before their arrests on Wednesday, the UK added three companies to their Myanmar sanctions list: International Gateways Group of Companies, Sky One Construction Company and Sapphire Group of Companies.
The Myanmar military regime expelled the head of the UK embassy, Pete Vowles, from the country in July. Vowles was appointed ambassador one year earlier but he had not presented his required credentials to the military council despite requests to do so by the junta.
Nikkei Asia reported that the UK downgraded his title to chargé d’affaires in response to the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. The junta refused to accept the appointment and called on the UK government to send a replacement.
Vowles has been outspoken regarding the coup regime’s atrocities and Myanmar people’s resistance movement to military rule. He was stranded in Thailand for several months earlier this year as the military refused to issue him a visa to re-enter Myanmar. He was later permitted to return to the country but tweeted on July 13 that he had been made to exit.
Bowman has been the director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business since 2013, an initiative promoting responsible practices among commercial enterprises in the country.
Htein Lin is a well-known painter, performance artist, and former political prisoner who was a member of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, an armed resistance force formed in the wake of the 8-8-88 popular uprising. He was incarcerated from 1998 until 2004 by the military regime in power at that time. His art frequently depicts the gruesome torture he faced in prison and as a victim of internal fighting within the rebel group to which he once belonged.
He later married Bowman and moved to London until they returned to Yangon in 2013.
They were reportedly recovering from recent Covid-19 infections at the time of their arrest.