U Nyan Win would be alive today had he not been arrested on Feb. 1, the day of the coup, and thrown into Insein Prison. Technically, the cause of his death on Tuesday morning was COVID-19, but the real agent of his demise was not the coronavirus, nor his age, at 79; it was the Myanmar military and its arbitrary arrest and detention of him.
Clearly, it was his captor that killed U Nyan Win.
Coup maker Senior General Min Aung Hlaing ordered the arrests of dozens of senior members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the elected government it led, as well as the detentions of other leading military critics, activists and civil society group members early on the morning of Feb. 1, hours before his military officially announced its takeover. Since then, Min Aung Hlaing’s regime has arrested more than 5,000 anti-coup protesters and thrown them into its horrible prisons, torturing many of them.
The orchestrator of the coup was their captor.
U Nyan Win, a legal adviser and key member of the NLD, was among those arrested. Despite his advanced age and some underlying conditions, he was still basically healthy in early July, when his lawyer Daw San Mar Lar—who was representing U Nyan Win in a sedition case brought against him by the military regime—met him in Insein Prison. On July 11, he was transferred to Yangon General Hospital after becoming infected with the coronavirus in his cell. He died nine days later.
U Nyan Win would not be dead if coup maker Min Aung Hlaing had not staged the coup. Certainly, Min Aung Hlaing’s decisions and actions were what killed the NLD stalwart. Of course, the general has already proved himself to be a mass murderer over the past five months, in which time his soldiers and police have killed more than 900 anti-coup demonstrators, including children, in the most brutal and violent ways. The victims’ wounds show that the military is deliberately targeting civilians with head shots and that many of those who have died in custody were tortured to death.
The National League for Democracy’s legal advisor U Nyan Win, who has died of COVID-19. / The Irrawaddy
But the death of U Nyan Win shows that Min Aung Hlaing and his regime have adopted another means of murder—a passive form of killing in which enemies of the regime are deliberately left to the mercy of the coronavirus and its potentially deadly effects inside unprotected prisons.
U Nyan Win became Myanmar’s first political prisoner publicly known to have died of COVID-19 in detention. Sadly, he almost certainly won’t be the last, as there are other political prisoners who, like U Nyan Win, are elderly and suffering from COVID-19. A few days after U Nyan Win was hospitalized, reports emerged that another senior leader of the NLD, U Han Tha Myint, was also hospitalized after being infected with COVID-19 in Insein Prison. He is 73. The NLD’s ousted chief minister of Yangon, U Phyo Min Thein, was also hospitalized after being infected at a military detention center in Yangon. His detained wife was also reportedly infected. Though the former chief minister is relatively young, in his 50s, he underwent heart surgery several years ago.
Among more than 5,000 political prisoners held by the regime, several hundred detainees are senior members of the NLD, its ousted government ministers and officials, and elected members of the party. As was the case with U Nyan Win, all of the NLD’s leading members are in their late 60s and 70s.
Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, vice chairman of the NLD and ousted chief minister of Mandalay Region, is one of them. There are unconfirmed reports that he is in poor health in prison, as he needs regular treatments for leukemia.
The lives of all of them are at tremendous risk as long as they are in the military regime’s detention. No doubt their family members all live in fear of receiving the kind of appalling news that U Nyan Win’s family was confronted with this week. On social media, the detainees’ supporters have individually demanded their immediate release. Many have accused Min Aung Hlaing of intentionally letting COVID-19 kill them in prison. Of course, the international community has consistently demanded that the regime release the ousted civilian government leaders and all political detainees.
Coup maker Min Aung Hlaing, however, has no thoughts of doing so. He is acting with intent; his intention is to destroy all of his opponents. These comprise members of the ousted NLD government, the popular party’s senior leaders like U Nyan Win and their staunch supporters, and others. What they have in common is their political legitimacy and their opposition to his rule.
Min Aung Hlaing definitely has politically genocidal intent—he seeks the deliberate killing or destruction of a large number or all political dissenters; those who seek democracy for Myanmar.
Min Aung Hlaing had that intent when he staged the coup. Put another way, what he has been doing since Feb. 1 is waging a campaign of genocide against political dissidents and members of pro-democracy parties like the NLD (the junta’s Union Election Commission said it is likely to disband the party), ethnic parties, civil society groups, independent media, rights groups and too many others to name.
This vicious campaign has attempted to weaken the resistance of the people of Myanmar against the military dictatorship. The international community led by the United States has no political leverage to end this genocidal campaign by Min Aung Hlaing, and is limited to expressing their concerns and denouncing the junta’s persecution.
On the ground, Myanmar people will see more killings in many forms—not only fatal head shots and deadly torture, but also passive killings of the kind that led to the death in detention of political dissenter U Nyan Win. Who will be next? And the next? And the next? The regime’s intention is for the “nexts” to continue to unfold until this generation of its political opponents is extinct.
A real political genocide is being committed here by the military regime. Its chief, Min Aung Hlaing, is the epitome of evil in Myanmar. Yet he remains at large.
Naing Khit is a commentator on political affairs.
This article was originally published on The Irrawaddy. Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.