Myanmar’s army has arrested 18 nurses of a private medical school for attending classes with three patients who were political activists who had been freed from detention, the latest in a series of actions targeting medical training in the country.
The arrests come a day after the military warned local leaders of “grave legal consequences” for providing medical care to members of non-government organisations, saying they were terrorist organizations funded by the international community to promote dissent.
They were arrested for attending a course in the town of Chin on 4 March in which they were taught proper medical care and often treated a government detainee, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the local sister organisations to which they belong.
The accused, members of the School of Medical and Dental Assistant Studies, which is based in Kan Pyi, a mountainous area in Kachin state, were arrested in Chin state when they returned from a course in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, on Monday. They were later taken to the headquarters of the army’s 9th division in the town of Insein, where they have been detained ever since.
“My family has been very concerned for more than one year about their well-being,” the 17-year-old sister of one of the men, Soo Kaid, told the Guardian.
“The officers said they will be released if they reveal the whereabouts of two other detainees, who can’t be located. Since the arrests, the one who has been held the longest in Insein is Kyaw Zaw, a father of two who is in the 18th grade.”
The junta gave up power in 2011, but repressive security measures remain in place, and some of the crimes committed under the previous regime have not been investigated.
According to the Arawaddy, a Rohingya advocacy website, the nurses were part of a training programme run by a northern Myanmar subsidiary of Belgium’s Serum Institute of Medical Sciences. They were following instructions to help free detainees of Shin Tatmadaw, or National Unity Council, a politically opposition group which was once banned by the junta.
Eighteen civilians and 11 soldiers were recently released from Myikurkarwa prison after serving time behind bars for providing medical treatment to anti-junta activists.
The issue of medical care is not unusual in Myanmar. In February, authorities arrested 16 doctors who gave physiotherapy to two female students who suffered burns in the village of Sithu in Chin state following an attack by unidentified assailants. The attacks were thought to be retaliation for two labour protesters jailed in December 2015.