Malaysian investigators seek public’s help finding missing Myanmar activist, family

Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian investigators seek public’s help finding missing Myanmar activist, family Thuzar Maung, a Malaysia-based refugee from Myanmar, gives a talk in Kuala Lumpur, in a photo posted on her Facebook page, March 9, 2023.
Courtesy Facebook@Thu Zar Moung

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET on 2023-08-04

Malaysian police have posted photos of a missing Myanmar democracy activist and her family online to ask the public for help in finding the five who, human rights advocates allege, were kidnapped from their Kuala Lumpur home a month ago. 

Police said they were investigating it as a missing persons case but had no updates on activist Thuzar Maung and her family, who are U.N. refugee-card holders, while Human Rights Watch criticized the police for not circulating the photographs to the public sooner. 

“Our focus remains on areas where the missing individuals could possibly be,” Selangor Police Chief Hussein Omar Khan told BenarNews on Friday.

The chief said police had recorded statements from 20 people, including neighbors, acquaintances and members of the Myanmar refugee community. 

“But, no significant developments at this point in time,” he said.

Late Thursday, Ampang district police posted photographs of the family on its Facebook page.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, urged the Malaysian police to investigate all possible angles that led to the disappearance as he criticized the delay in seeking assistance from the public.

“It’s about time the Malaysian police started investigating this case seriously. Releasing the photo of the family and their vehicle is something that should have been done weeks ago,” Robertson told BenarNews on Friday. 

“All possibilities need to be explored, including who could have pulled off such a professionally conducted abduction that moved so quickly and efficiently to spirit Thuzar Maung, her husband, three children and the two family cars away.”

Robertson said police must investigate the motives behind Thuzar’s abduction, considering her support for the shadow and civilian National Unity Government (NUG), which comprises former elected Myanmar legislators and junta opponents. 

“How this operation was conducted should be an important clue since the abilities demonstrated seem well beyond what ordinary Malaysians could do,” Robertson said. 

In a news release issued last month, HRW said that unidentified men abducted Thuzar Maung, 46, her husband Saw Than Tin Win, 43, their 16-year-old daughter and two sons aged 17 and 21, on July 4 from their Kuala Lumpur residence, citing witness accounts and CCTV footage.

“The footage showed a car entering their gated community on the said date, with the driver claiming to be the police. Later that evening, the same car and two cars belonging to the family were seen leaving the compound,” HRW said. 

“Thuzar’s colleagues who entered the house on July 5 said there were no signs of robbery,” HRW said.

James Bawi, a refugee and activist with the Chin community – a mostly Christian ethnic group –  said he had met recently with the Malaysia Home Ministry’s press secretary and urged the ministry to initiate investigations into the disappearances.

“He [the press secretary] has promised to provide updates on the disappearance of Thuzar Maung and her family,” he said. 

An NUG spokesman in Myanmar said rights activists in foreign countries need to be protected.

“Now her sudden disappearance demonstrates that the lives of human rights campaigners, women’s rights campaigners were not safe, not only in Myanmar but also in foreign countries,” spokesman Aung Kyaw Moe told Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews.

“We would like to say the regional countries and other countries where Myanmar rights activists are working or staying should provide enough protection. For Thuzar Maung’s case, the Malaysian government should take action without any hesitation and help the family with more information and other necessary help.”  

The Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia’s foreign and home affairs ministers did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment.

In Malaysia, Thuzar heads the Myanmar Muslim Refugee Community and has been a staunch critic of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s junta, which toppled the elected Myanmar government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup in February 2021.

She fled to Malaysia from Mandalay to escape growing violence against Muslims. Thuzar and her family members hold refugee cards issued by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

Khin Khin Ei and Kyaw Lwin Oo of RFA’s Burmese Service contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.