Land rights lawyer who challenged military ‘brutally’ beaten in front of family then abducted 

A Mandalay-based lawyer known for helping farmers in land disputes with the military was “brutally” beaten by soldiers in front of his wife and children before being taken away earlier this month, a friend of his has said. 

Five vehicles full of junta troops arrived at the Chanayetharzan Township home of Si Thu, 40, on April 8 to abduct him. He has not been seen or heard from since and the military has not told the family where he is being held. 

“He was beaten brutally in front of his family,” said the friend, who is also a lawyer and asked not to be named. “They only stopped beating him when the wife and the children started begging the soldiers.”

From 2019 Si Thu worked pro bono on the case of a group of residents who were opposing the construction of a cement factory in the village of Aung Tha Pyay. Police shot a man in the leg during a 2020 raid targeting those protesting the factory. 

The lawyer also represented farmers in Pyin Oo Lwin who tried to prevent the military from seizing their land in late 2020.

At least 20 people were arrested in Mandalay last week for their opposition to the military, according to local sources. 

Three young anti-coup activists from the city, including a protest leader named Thura Aung, have been held in junta custody since January. Activists from the Mandalay Strike Committee say they are worried for the detainees’ lives.

Students sit for an exam in the forest in Hpa-an District in February (Supplied)

A 12-year-old girl currently sitting for her exams in the forests of Hpa-an told Myanmar Now—with the permission of her guardian and teacher—that she and her peers were worried that even in the woods, they could still be the target of further attacks by the military.  

“I heard about the bombings in other regions that killed kids my age and it breaks my heart every time I hear news like this,” she said. “I feel so bad for them but I can’t do anything about it. Even I, myself, am taking my exams in the forest, not knowing when the military is going to come back and launch airstrikes.”

Locals said that junta jets were also seen hovering over villages located around the KNU headquarters, located at another site also named Lay Wah but in Hpa-an District, on February 18, with drones scouting the area in the evening.

Some 1,000 residents of two area villages subsequently left their homes, fearing forthcoming attacks. Those who stayed behind did so because of health conditions that prevented them from fleeing, a man from the area explained, noting that they positioned themselves near bunkers and trenches if bombings were to occur. 

“Some clinics are even sending patients home as we don’t know when the next airstrike will come,” the man said, adding that these sites have been targeted in past assaults. 

Among the villagers who left, some attempted to cross the Thaungyin (Moei) River and enter neighbouring Thailand, but were reportedly turned back by the local authorities. 

“Some families tried to cross over to Thailand, thinking they’d be safe there. But they could only go as far as the shore, as the Thai police force wouldn’t let them across,” another local said. 

The junta has carried out some 307 airstrikes within Karen territory in the two years since the February 2021 military coup, the KNU said on Tuesday. 

During this time, 36 civilians were killed and 57 were injured in the aerial attacks and heavy weapons fire by the regime; more than 20 of these deaths occurred in late March 2021, when the military carried out three days of airstrikes on villages in the KNU’s Brigade 5.

Some 258 homes, 12 schools, six hospitals, eight churches and four monasteries were also destroyed by the junta in KNU territory over the last two years, according to the organisation.

The military council has denied carrying out such attacks against the public, instead claiming that it targets “terrorists.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *