17 medical workers in Myanmar detained amid anti-junta crackdown

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s security forces arrested 18 medical workers in the largest city of Mandalay, including four doctors, the head of a trade union said Thursday.

The detention came a week after the government launched a crackdown in Mandalay on members of pro-democracy and anti-junta groups, who had reported in Thai media that they were tortured and mistreated while imprisoned.

Myanmar had long restricted medical workers, barring them from carrying out certain jobs and restricting humanitarian aid.

“They have arrested 18 medical workers. We have two doctors and 16 other workers. All of them belong to the National Federation of Medical Technicians and Allied Workers Union,” said Thet Hin Aung, the leader of the union, in a telephone interview.

After the arrest of the health workers in Maschena, the larger city of Mandalay, the authorities had sent four doctors back to Mandalay Central Prison in the south of the city on Wednesday and three others were being sought by the police, Thet Hin Aung said.

The doctors’ union had asked a court to release the prisoners on bail on Wednesday, but it did not follow through, the leader said.

“We really want them to be free. The police say they will release them after the court officially rules,” Thet Hin Aung said.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to a request for comment.

Myanmar has tolerated less intrusive rules on international and domestic humanitarian workers since 1988, when a military coup that had excluded political parties after a 1962 coup removed direct oversight from civil society.

But the anti-junta protest movement in the 1980s and early 1990s inspired illegal labor strikes and labor intimidation. After 2010, when Thein Sein’s reformist government took power, the military gave up control of most institutions, including the police and army, to civilian authorities.

The crackdown last week in Mandalay, followed by the arrest and release of three humanitarian workers, alarmed diplomats, human rights advocates and members of the opposition National League for Democracy party who accused the government of using tactics similar to those used during the 1988 military takeover.

After the Asian Games and the 2010 general election, which restored democracy, the military leadership’s approach to the wider society and to foreign aid organizations has been to criticize the former winners, often with little reference to the circumstances that produced that success.

In 2012, Sathya Sai appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” in which he pleaded for international support after he was detained by Myanmar’s security forces.

“I want medical help. I want to help people,” he said.

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