Rights group: Myanmar democracy activist, family abducted in Malaysia

Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
Rights group: Myanmar democracy activist, family abducted in Malaysia Thuzar Maung, Malaysia-based Myanmar refugee, delivers a speech in Kuala Lumpur in a photo posted on her Facebook account, March 9, 2023.
Photo courtesy Facebook @Thu Zar Moung

A Myanmar democracy activist and her family, who are U.N. refugee card holders, were kidnapped from their home in Malaysia’s capital earlier this month, Human Rights Watch said Monday, adding that people linked to the Malaysian government may have been involved.

Activist Thuzar Maung was targeted because she supported the Myanmar pro-democracy movement against the Burmese junta, but it was a first for holders of United Nations refugee cards, said a source who works with migrant groups in Malaysia.

The July 4 abduction in Kuala Lumpur was carried out meticulously, raising suspicion that people connected to the Malaysian government may have participated, Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, told BenarNews.

“What is clear is this action was professionally planned and carried out with a great deal of efficiency, leaving very few clues – raising suspicion that persons connected to the Malaysian government could be involved,” Robertson said.

Police in Selangor, the state encompassing Kuala Lumpur, said they were investigating the report.

Malaysia has been among the most vocal Southeast Asian nations calling for strong action against the Myanmar military, which toppled an elected government in February 2021. Yet it has deported thousands, including military defectors, to Myanmar, human rights groups have complained.

Unidentified men abducted Thuzar Maung, 46; her husband, Saw Than Tin Win, 43; her daughter, Poeh Khing Maung, 16; and sons Aung Myint Maung, 21; and Thukha Maung, 17; on July 4 from their residence in Ampang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, HRW alleged, citing witness accounts and CCTV footage.

“We fear that Thuzar Maung and her family were abducted in a planned operation and are at grave risk,” Elaine Pearson, Asia director at HRW, said in a statement. She demanded the Malaysian government urgently locate the family and ensure their safety.

While there was so far no evidence to conclusively determine who was responsible, the only party with a true motive was the Burmese junta, said HRW’s Robertson.

“[T]hose with a real motive to carry out this heinous abduction are the Myanmar military junta and its Embassy in Malaysia, and that possibility must be immediately and thoroughly investigated as well,” he said.

The Malaysian migrant group source, who asked that their name not be disclosed for safety reasons, concurred with Robertson, saying Burmese refugees live in constant fear of deportation because their embassy in Kuala Lumpur represents the Burmese military.

Thuzar’s public support of the shadow and civilian National Unity Government – made up of former elected legislators and other junta opponents – and her help for the NUG on Myanmar migrant welfare issues would be reasons that the junta would target her, the source said.

“And the reason the abduction was made public late is because Thuzar’s colleagues requested confidentiality until late last week due to concerns that media exposure could potentially endanger her,” the source told BenarNews.

Selangor state police said they were trying to find Thuzar and her family.

“The police have received a police report regarding this matter,” Selangor Police chief Hussein Omar Khan told BenarNews.

“Following that, an investigation has been initiated under the Missing Person Inquiry Paper,” he said without providing details.

BenarNews contacted the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, as well as Malaysia’s Foreign and Home Affairs ministers for comment but did not immediately hear back from them.

‘No signs of robbery’

In Malaysia, Thuzar, whose name is also spelled Thu Zar Moung, works as chairwoman of the Myanmar Muslim Refugee Community and the Myanmar Migrant Workers Committee. According to HRW, she arrived in Malaysia in 2015.

Her Facebook page, where she posts criticism of alleged abuses by Myanmar’s junta, has more than 93,000 followers, HRW said.

CCTV footage showed a car entering the gated community where Thuzar lived with her family, at around 4:30 pm July 4, HRW said.

“The driver told the security guards they were police. Two hours later, Thuzar Maung was on the phone with a friend, who heard her yell to her husband that unknown men were entering the house, before being disconnected,” the HRW statement said.

“At about 7:10 p.m., the same car and the two cars owned by Thuzar Maung’s family were seen leaving the compound. Thuzar Maung’s phone and the phones of her husband and children appear to have been immediately turned off, as no calls have gone through since.”

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

The last post on Thuzar’s Facebook account was at 5:07 a.m. July 4.

BenarNews had met with Thuzar in September 2022 when she said she fled from Mandalay in Myanmar after facing discrimination because of her Muslim identity and being falsely accused of associating with terrorism.

“The Muslim community in that area were heavily accused. I was frightened and decided to flee the country. Because I had a passport at that time, I was able to book a flight and get to Thailand. Thailand granted a visa on arrival, and then I went to Malaysia,” she told BenarNews back then.

“I went to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 and pleaded my case. I showed them proof that I was accused and discriminated against due to my religion. Then we received our U.N. cards.”


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