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Cameroon: Boko Haram Attacks Escalate in Far North

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Cameroonian soldiers patrolling along National Road 1, Mora, Far North region, Cameroon, February 5, 2021.
© 2021 Private

(Nairobi) – The Islamist armed group Boko Haram has stepped up attacks on civilians in towns and villages in the Far North region of Cameroon since December 2020, killing at least 80 civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The group has also looted hundreds of homes in the region. The government should take concrete measures to both increase protection to vulnerable communities and ensure a rights-respecting security force response to the worsening violence.

“Boko Haram is waging a war on the people of Cameroon at a shocking human cost,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “As Cameroon’s Far North region increasingly becomes the epicenter of Boko Haram’s violence, Cameroon should urgently adopt and carry out a new, rights-respecting strategy to protect civilians at risk in the Far North.”

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The area where a Boko Haram’s female suicide bomber detonated her explosive vest in the bush around Mozogo, Far North region, Cameroon, killing 11 civilians, February 2021
© 2021 Private

Human Rights Watch documented how a Boko Haram suicide bomber blew up fleeing civilians, dozens of local fishermen were killed with machetes and knives, and an elderly village chief was assassinated in front of his family. Research suggests that the actual number of casualties is much higher, given the difficulty of confirming details remotely and that attacks often go unreported.

From January 25 to February 25, 2021, Human Rights Watch interviewed by telephone 20 victims and witnesses to 5 Boko Haram attacks since mid-December in the towns and villages of Blabline, Darak, Gouzoudou, and Mozogo in the Far North region, as well 4 family members of victims, 2 humanitarian workers, and 5 local activists. Human Rights Watch also interviewed 2 victims and a witness to human rights violations in the region by Cameroonian soldiers. Human Rights Watch reviewed reports from humanitarian and other nongovernmental organizations and local media reports on attacks in the region and consulted with academics, political analysts, and representatives of the African Union, the United Nations, and the European Union.

Human Rights Watch shared the research by email with Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo, the Cameroonian army spokesperson, on February 1 and again on March 19, requesting information about the Boko Haram attacks, the ongoing military operations, and the specific allegations Human Rights Watch documented. The army spokesperson did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Cameroon’s territorial administration minister said on February 12 that the security situation in the Far North region is “under control” and that Boko Haram is “living its last days.”

One of the deadliest recent attacks was in Mozogo on January 8, when Boko Haram fighters killed at least 14 civilians, including 8 children, and wounded 3 others, including 2 children. As fighters shot at residents and looted homes, a female suicide bomber infiltrated a group of fleeing civilians and then detonated her explosive vest, witnesses said.

“As the shooting started, I ran away toward the forest,” a 41-year-old resident said. “I heard a powerful explosion and lay on the ground. I saw a 7-year-old child covered in blood running toward me. He took me to the place where the kamikaze detonated her explosive vest. It was a bloodbath.”

The Boko Haram insurgency began in Nigeria in 2009 and then spread across the Lake Chad basin countries, including Cameroon. Boko Haram’s attacks are often indiscriminate, including suicide bombings in crowded areas that appear designed to maximize civilian deaths and injuries. Cameroon has had a sharp spike in attacks over the past year. According to a November 2020 report of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a United States Department of Defense think tank, the number of Boko Haram attacks against civilians in Cameroon in 2020 was higher than in Nigeria, Niger, and Chad combined.

In 2015, the African Union established the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), made up of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, to respond to Boko Haram attacks across the Lake Chad basin. Comprising over 8,000 troops, the MNJTF receives technical, financial, and strategic support from international partners, including the European Union, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. The multinational force has conducted joint military operations across the Lake Chad basin.

It is essential for Cameroon and the multinational force to improve the conduct of forces deployed to counter Boko Haram attacks and to ensure that allegations of human rights violations by its forces are investigated and prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 2014, rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have documented widespread human rights violations and crimes under international humanitarian law by Cameroonian security forces deployed on operations in the Far North, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, incommunicado detention, systematic torture, and forced return of refugees. 

On December 9, soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), an elite unit of the Cameroonian army, arrested four fishermen in Dabanga, in the Far North region, beat them, and took them to the Dabanga military base, where one of them died, said two of the fishermen and a family member. The fishermen said that the soldiers accused them of being Boko Haram members and that they saw one of the fishermen who was arrested with them taken from the cell soon after they arrived.

A family member of the fisherman who died said that BIR soldiers brought his body to their home hours after he was arrested, claiming he had died of a heart attack. The two fishermen and the family member said they believe the security forces killed him.

Cameroon’s international partners should push for accountability for human rights violations and work to strengthen the civilian component of the multinational force and its human rights compliance office, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also urges the Cameroonian parliament to hold a hearing to explore the government’s response to the increasing attacks on civilians in the Far North, to provide recommendations on how to enhance civilian protection, and to seek input from international actors as needed.

International humanitarian law, applicable to the armed conflict with Boko Haram, prohibits deliberate disproportionate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects. Those who order or commit such attacks with criminal intent are responsible for war crimes.

“With Boko Haram attacks on the rise in Cameroon, more needs to be done to effectively protect civilians, including by boosting the military presence and patrols across the Far North region and ensuring that the soldiers respect people’s rights,” Allegrozzi said. “Cameroon’s regional and international partners, including those supporting the multinational force, should bolster these efforts and ensure that their assistance does not contribute to human rights violations.”

For more details about the recent attacks and abuses in the Far North region, please see below.

Humanitarian Crisis

The Cameroonian military has deployed thousands of soldiers to the Far North region to prevent and repel attacks by Boko Haram, but residents and humanitarian workers said the soldiers’ presence is far too thin to effectively protect civilians. Cameroon’s overstretched army is also confronting a separatist insurgency in the country’s Anglophone regions and the threat of cross-border raids by rebels in neighboring Central African Republic. It has relied on over 14,000 so-called “vigilantes,” community self-defense groups, and in some cases forced untrained civilians to carry out security tasks without adequate training or protection, putting them at great risk.  

The Boko Haram violence in Cameroon has led to a major humanitarian crisis, forcing over 322,000 people from their homes since 2014, including 12,500 since December. Given the heightened insecurity, access to many areas is only possible with military escorts, making it difficult for humanitarian organizations to deliver aid while respecting their neutrality, depriving those in need of life-saving assistance. Aid workers and residents said that increasing the military presence and military patrols in violence-prone areas, including on market days, would both improve civilian protection and expand humanitarian access by enabling aid workers to safely travel without escorts.


Raid and Suicide Attack

Witnesses said that about 100 fighters, whom they recognized as being Boko Haram members from the way they dressed and spoke, entered the town of Mozogo on foot at about 1:30 a.m. on January 8, breaking into homes, looting property, and shooting at residents, killing two men, one of whom was 80 years old. As they fled towards the nearby bush, witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion. A female suicide bomber had infiltrated a group of fleeing civilians and detonated her explosive vest, killing 11 people on the spot, including 8 children, and wounding 3 others, including 2 children. A 43-year-old man later died three days later at the Koza Adventist hospital from wounds caused by the explosion.

Human Rights Watch spoke to five witnesses to the attack, including three family members of victims. Human Rights Watch also obtained lists of the 14 people killed from four sources and spoke to relatives and residents who carried out the burials. These details correspond with the information published by local media.

A 43-year-old woman who lost two of her children, a 17-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, in the suicide attack said:

Boko Haram [fighters] fired shots and screamed “Allahu Akbar” [God is Great]. We ran toward the forest. Minutes later, we heard a loud explosion. I found myself on the ground. When I stood up, I looked for my children. My girl was dead, while the boy was badly injured. They were both covered in blood with wounds all over their bodies. Residents helped me carry the boy to our home, where he died.

A relative of the 80-year-old man said that four Boko Haram fighters armed with Kalashnikovs and machetes broke into their home and fired twice at the elderly man, who was too weak to run away:

Gunshots woke us up and suddenly they [Boko Haram fighters] were at our door. They destroyed the door and broke in. They shot twice at the husband of my grandmother, an 80-year-old man who could not walk very well because of his age. He was not quick enough to escape. I did. He was shot in the stomach and stabbed with a machete on his head. When the attack ended, I came back home and found him in a pool of blood. I took him to the hospital, where he died the same day.

Response of the Security Forces and Displacement

Witnesses said that soldiers from the 42nd Motorized Infantry Battalion (BIM) based in Mozogo intervened after the female fighter detonated her explosive vest. They fired in the air to chase away the Boko Haram fighters.

In a January 8 statement, Cameroon’s communication minister said that local authorities and security forces had opened an investigation into the attack.

On January 9, Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon’s Far North region, said that military reinforcements had been deployed to Mozogo to secure the area, which was confirmed by witnesses, who said that up to five additional military vehicles patrolled the town for a few days. But residents said these military reinforcements appear to have left.

Residents said they are worried about their security especially since the departure of the military reinforcements. “We live in fear,” a 50-year-old man said. “We are tired of this situation; we have been economically and psychologically drained.”

Following the January 8 attack, hundreds of people fled Mozogo to nearby villages and towns, including Koza, Mokolo, and Touboro. At least 300 who remained in Mozogo did not spend the night at home, sleeping for over a month instead outside, in a secondary school compound near the gendarmerie brigade, or at the public stand used for national celebrations near the army base.

A 38-year-old man who survived the suicide attack said on January 28 that he had not slept at home since January 8 and spent his nights, from about 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., in the veranda of a secondary technical school, along with his two wives and six children: “I sleep with all my family on one single mat on the veranda of the school, which is 20 meters from the gendarmerie brigade. There are about 100 people sleeping there, outside.”

Night Guard Duty

Human Rights Watch previously documented how soldiers in Mozogo forced civilians to perform local night guard duty to protect the town against attacks by Boko Haram, using beatings and threats against those who refused. While the beatings appear to have stopped, Human Rights Watch spoke to residents who continue to perform night duty out of fear of renewed beatings and threats. Some expressed concerns for their safety and said they feel they are being put in harm’s way, lacking the necessary experience and equipment to perform the dangerous security tasks demanded of them.

“I usually do my night guard duty twice a week,” a 39-year-old mechanic said. “I only have a flashlight. I have no whistle, no weapon, no phone. This type of work is not remunerated and is dangerous. It is not the type of work civilians should do. It is up to the military to protect us from Boko Haram attacks. We are being unnecessarily exposed to great risks.”

A 50-year-old man from Mozogo said he stopped performing the night guard duty following a Boko Haram raid in November during which civilians who were on duty were attacked and fired upon: “We were alone. There was no member of the vigilante committee or soldier with us that night. We were just 10 civilians at the security post called Municipal Stadium. Up to 30 Boko Haram fighters shot at us. It was a miracle none got injured.”


On December 24, Boko Haram fighters attacked Darak, an island on Lake Chad. Human Rights Watch spoke to two survivors, three people who carried out burials, and a relative of a survivor. Those who carried out burials said that Boko Haram killed up to 80 civilians, the majority of them fishermen. Human Rights Watch was not able to independently verify the number of civilian deaths.

Local authorities told international and national media outlets that “scores” were killed in the attack. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that Boko Haram attacked four islands on the lake, on the border between Chad and Cameroon, on December 24, killing 27 people and kidnapping 12 others.

According to information collected by Human Rights Watch, about 100 Boko Haram fighters on wooden pirogues stormed an area of Darak known as Tonganamie, where night fishermen cast their nets, at about midnight. They rounded up the fishermen and killed them, mostly using knives and machetes.

“I heard people talking in Kanuri [a language commonly spoken in the Far North of Cameroon] and saying: ‘Come on! Come quickly! Go ahead.’ They were Boko Haram fighters and they were rounding up the fishermen to kill them,” a 24-year-old fisherman who witnessed the attack said. “I hid. Later, I went back to Darak town. I know eight among those who were killed that night; they were all fishermen from Darak.”

A 32-year-old fisherman who was seriously injured said:

Over 100 Boko Haram fighters came with their wooden rowboats. Some remained in the boats; some got out and rounded us up. They gathered all the fishermen who were there and killed them with their knives and machetes as they tried to escape. I was caught and they hit me with a machete on the head. I was also hit in the right hand with a spear. I thought I was dead. I jumped into the water to save my life. I swam and reached the grass side [of a nearby marsh]. Some fishermen later found me. I was taken to the hospital, where I stayed for 15 days. My wounds are yet to heal.

“I was among those who helped recovered the bodies from the water,” a 25-year-old Darak resident said. “It took us three days to collect them all. Bodies were floating in the water. The first day, after the attack, we collected over 40 bodies, including with the help of nets. The following two days, we collected 40 more, for a total of over 80 bodies. Most of them had visible stab wounds.”

Witnesses said the overnight attack in Darak took the security forces based there, including soldiers from both the marine and land forces, by surprise. They said Boko Haram fighters arrived on pirogues without engines and only fired a few gunshots to limit any noise that could have prompted soldiers to intervene.

In a previous Boko Haram attack on Darak in June 2019, insurgents killed 21 soldiers and 16 civilians.


On December 16, at about 1:45 a.m., a group of five Boko Haram fighters attacked the home of Gouzoudou’s traditional authority, known as the lawane, firing several gunshots and wounding two men. The lawane escaped and ran to the military camp in town to sound the alarm. The soldiers came shortly after, but the insurgents had already fled. Soldiers evacuated the wounded to the Maroua regional hospital. One of them, a 60-year-old man, is still receiving medical treatment, including amputating his right hand.

Human Rights Watch spoke to the lawane, as well as seven witnesses to the attack. “I was outside with my 30-year-old brother when we heard some noise,” the lawane said. “My brother used his flashlight to light the surroundings. I saw five Boko Haram fighters armed with Kalashnikovs. They shot my brother in his heel as I jumped off a little wall to save my life. When I returned home, I found that my food shop and my motorbike had been looted.”

Residents said Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted Gouzoudou, with at least eight raids recorded between December 14 and January 21. They said that until the end of 2020, there was a military camp in Gouzoudou, but that the camp has been dismantled.


On December 2, at about 6 p.m., at least five Boko Haram fighters attacked a group of four civilians in the outskirts of Blabline village, killing one – a lawane from a neighboring village – and injuring three others, including a 16-year-old child. Human Rights Watch spoke to two witnesses of the attack and three Blabline residents who buried the body of the lawane and helped rescue the wounded.

One of the witnesses said:

I was a few meters away from the scene. I saw the Boko Haram fighters and hid. I watched as they captured the lawane, two of his sons and another man. They forced them on the ground and stole their phones. They spoke Kanuri and Arabic. Then, they fired a series of gunshots at them. The lawane was hit in the head and died on the spot. The fighters stole his motorbike and ran away with it. I rushed to rescue the wounded, including a 28-year-old man who was shot in the right shoulder, a 16-year-old child who was shot in the heel, and a 45-year-old man who was shot in the ribs.

Boko Haram fighters attacked Blabline again at about 11 p.m. on December 4. They fired at people as they fled, shooting a 38-year-old man in the stomach. They also broke into scores of homes, looting bicycles, motorbikes, food, telephones, clothes, and other items.

Human Rights Watch spoke to five witnesses to the attack, including the village chief who said that the attackers had looted 80 of the village’s 142 households.

Witnesses said soldiers intervened and chased the assailants away, but only after widespread looting. They also said that Boko Haram fighters attempted to attack the village four more times – on December 14, 27, and 31 – but that the military expelled them. In another attack on January 11, insurgents looted four homes.


New York State Passes Important Legislation for Justice

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Melissa Moore of Drug Policy Alliance (M) speaks at a rally in support of the Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) alongside supporters of the bill on the steps on New York City Hall on November 21, 2019.
© 2019 Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Sipa via AP Images

On Wednesday, the US state of New York enacted two groundbreaking pieces of legislation. One law will limit the cruel practice of solitary confinement, the other legalizes marijuana, and both laws will advance justice and protect rights.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) not only legalizes marijuana in New York by removing it from the state’s Controlled Substances Act, but it also takes funds generated by a sales tax on certain marijuana-related products and reinvests the money into communities most harmed by the drug war. It does so by funding community-based projects, including adult education services, job training, after school programs, and re-entry services for people recently released from custody. This will help repair the harm from decades of racist enforcement of drug laws, including arrests for possession of marijuana, as documented by Human Rights Watch and many others. The law also creates ways for people convicted of marijuana-related offenses to have their sentences removed or reclassified. New Mexico’s legislature simultaneously passed a similar bill that is awaiting its governor’s signature.

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act (HALT Solitary Act), which will go into effect in a year, limits the use of solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days and bars it entirely for several groups, including those 21 and younger, 55 and older, and people with disabilities. It also creates more humane, effective alternatives to solitary, limits its use to the most egregious conduct, and enhances procedural protections, staff capabilities, and transparency and accountability through mandatory reporting and oversight. Our research and that of others has shown that jail and prison staff often impose prolonged periods of isolation that could amount to torture under international human rights law for minor misconduct, and in conditions that are needlessly harsh, counterproductive, and inconsistent with recognition of each person’s basic humanity and dignity.

Human Rights Watch supported both pieces of legislation, which are part of the JusticeRoadmap for New York, which is taking on laws that target Black and brown communities. But it is the bold state lawmakers who supported the bills, advocates from the Drug Policy Alliance, which led efforts on the MRTA, the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which led on the HALT Solitary Act, VOCAL-NY, and many others, some of whom were convicted of marijuana-related offenses or spent years in solitary confinement themselves, who are responsible for this victory. These laws will make New York a better, safer, fairer place to be.


Myanmar: Hundreds Forcibly Disappeared

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A man is held by police during a crackdown on anti-coup protesters holding a rally in front of the Myanmar Economic Bank in Mandalay, Myanmar on February 15, 2021.
© AP Photo

(Bangkok) – Myanmar’s military junta has forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the February 1, 2021 coup, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have taken into custody politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, and protesters and refused to confirm their location or allow access to lawyers or family members in violation of international law.

The security forces have arrested many people suspected of participation in anti-coup demonstrations or in the opposition Civil Disobedience Movement during nighttime raids on homes throughout the country. The nongovernmental organization, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, told Human Rights Watch they could confirm the location of only a small fraction of the more than 2,500 recent detainees they have identified.

“The military junta’s widespread use of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances appears designed to strike fear in the hearts of anti-coup protesters,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Concerned governments should demand the release of everyone disappeared and impose targeted economic sanctions against junta leaders to finally hold this abusive military to account.”

Human Rights Watch spoke to family members, witnesses, and lawyers of 16 people feared to have been forcibly disappeared since the coup.

On February 1 at about 5:30 a.m., four uniformed soldiers and a man in civilian attire arrived at the home of Mya Aye, 55, an outspoken activist and member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), in Mingalar Taung Nyunt township, Yangon. The men showed no arrest warrant and offered no basis for his arrest to family members, which was caught on a neighbor’s CCTV camera and later was posted on Twitter.

Later that day, two plainclothes officers came to the residence to collect his medications but refused to provide additional information. In late March, Mya Aye’s family said that the authorities still had not told them where Mya Aye was being held and had not provided him access to a lawyer.

On March 6, police arrived at the funeral in Mandalay of a protester shot dead by police, causing those attending to flee in panic. A prominent activist, Nyi Nyi Kyaw, fell and the police arrested him. A friend of Nyi Nyi Kyaw said that the authorities did not tell his family where he was, and that they went into hiding out of fear that they may be targeted as family members.

The family received one communication from Nyi Nyi Kyaw – a short but chilling phone call to his eldest son from a blocked number – four days after his disappearance in which he sounded agitated and distressed, the friend said. The call was ended before the family could ascertain his whereabouts.

On March 9, military trucks arrived around 1:30 p.m. and parked outside the office of Karmayut Media in Yangon, neighbors said. At about 3 p.m., they saw soldiers take away the media outlet’s co-founder, Han Thar Nyein, 40, and the editor-in-chief, Nathan Maung, 45. Their families still have not been informed of their whereabouts, a family member said.

“We’re so anxious about where they are, and we’re worried for their well-being,” the family member of Han Thar Nyein said. “We want to see them with our own eyes, to accept that they are okay, that they are alive. And we want this to happen quickly, not to wait in this agonizing way.”

Many friends and family members of anti-coup protesters who have been arrested told Human Rights Watch they do not know exactly where the person was being held, heightening concerns about their safety and well-being.

In many cases, families have only received information informally about the location of their family member, such as when newly released detainees notify family members or lawyers that they had seen a person who had been detained. Some families believe that because a prison accepts a package for their family member, it is most likely the place where their relative is being held. However, this is conjecture and does not relieve the authorities of their obligation to provide information on a detainee’s whereabouts, produce a detainee in court within 48 hours, and allow access to counsel and family members.

Under international human rights law, a state commits an enforced disappearance when government authorities or their agents arrest or detain an individual followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealing the fate or whereabouts of the person, placing them outside the protection of the law. Forcibly disappeared people are commonly subjected to torture or extrajudicial execution. Families must live with the uncertainty of not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive, and worrying about their treatment in captivity.

Enforced disappearances are grave violations of international law, and when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, are crimes against humanity.

“Enforced disappearances are a heinous crime, not least because of the anguish and suffering caused to family and friends,” Adams said. “Myanmar’s security forces have continually flouted any respect for human rights, but they should know that they will be held accountable for the disappearances of these individuals and for the safe return of everyone forcibly disappeared.”

Examples of Enforced Disappearances

Mya Aye

Mya Aye is a vocal critic of the military and a veteran pro-democracy activist who has been arrested twice previously, in 1989 and again in 2007. He served lengthy sentences both times. His daughter said that both times, he was also forcibly disappeared for months before the family could locate him.

Mya Aye was arrested on February 1 at his home in Yangon. On February 3, family members went to the Mingalar Taung Nyunt township police station to ask where he was being detained and the charges against him. The family said that police chief, Tin Maung Swe, said police were not responsible for Mya Aye’s detention and could not provide further details. On February 6, the family requested assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross to help locate him. On February 17, the family made a submission to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

Mya Aye’s family said that in the two months since he was disappeared the authorities have not informed the family of his whereabouts and failed to respond to the family’s numerous requests for an investigation into the circumstances of his arrest and disappearance. They said that he has had a quadruple bypass operation and requires daily medication. The family has sent packages that include food and medication to Yangon’s Insein prison with the hope that he is there, and that the medication reaches him, but they have no way to confirm if he has received them.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw

On March 6, police arrested Nyi Nyi Kyaw in Mandalay as he attended the funeral of a protester shot dead by the police. When security forces arrived at the service, held on the corner of 62nd and 102nd streets, the funeral congregation ran in panic. Nyi Nyi Kyaw fell over as he was running and appeared to be immediately targeted for arrest by the police there, his friend said. While other civil society activists were at the funeral, only Nyi Nyi Kyaw was arrested.

In attempts to locate Nyi Nyi Kyaw, his family on March 7 took packages to two prisons in Mandalay: Obo and then Lan Dwin. Both facilities denied that he was being held there.

The family decided to go into hiding after Nyi Nyi Kyaw’s son received a distressing phone call from his father on March 10, four days after his arrest. The family is unsure whose phone Nyi Nyi Kyaw was using, but he repeatedly avoided answering questions about his whereabouts or his well-being. His son told the family friend that his father seemed disoriented and asked questions about another individual involved in the civil disobedience movement who was on the run. The call was cut from Nyi Nyi Kyaw’s end when his son could not answer questions about the key leaders of the anti-coup movement.

“Maybe Nyi Nyi Kyaw called because he wanted to let his son know he was alive,” a family friend said. “His son is terrified for his father’s well-being but also worried that the family is being tracked so they have gone into hiding. This makes things even more desperate for Nyi Nyi Kyaw because he’s not receiving the packages from his family members that are so essential for the survival of prisoners in Myanmar jails.”

Nathan Maung and Han Thar Nyein

On March 9, the authorities arrested the Karmayut Media editor-in-chief, Nathan Maung, and co-founder, Han Thar Nyein, after security forces raided their office in Yangon. Two videos posted on Facebook on March 10, recorded from a neighboring building, show at least six army vehicles parked outside the office. Soldiers can be seen leaving the office building carrying bags and equipment and placing them in the vehicles. By matching the buildings visible in the videos with satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch confirmed it to be the location of Karmaryut Media in Kamayut township.

“No one has been able to tell me where they are,” a family member of Han Thar Nyein said. The family member said that lawyers had not had access to the pair and that the authorities had not told them where they were holding them.

On March 10, the families tried to send packages to Insein prison, but the next day prison officials told them to collect the packages as no one with those names was in the prison.

Yan Paing Hein

On March 9, the authorities arrested Yan Paing Hein, 25, together with 22 other residents from 3rd St., Lanmadaw township in Yangon, after protesters detained seven police officers who had been involved in trying to quash protests.

In a video livestreamed on Facebook on March 8 that Human Rights Watch could no longer locate but has access to an offline copy, Yan Paing Hein can be seen and heard attempting to prevent residents from beating the captive police officers. Soon after, the military arrives in a large convoy and shots can be heard. Yan Paing Hein can be seen running away. Human Rights Watch identified Yan Paing Hein in this video through interviews with family members. He later ran back to his home along with others who were not immediately arrested, a family member said.

Around 12:30 a.m., police broke down the front door of Yan Paing Hein’s house. Soldiers entered the house and arrested Yan Paing Hein. The soldiers also arrested 22 other young men from the neighborhood.

“They pointed guns at me and my father while they were searching our home, while they were questioning my dad and while they took Yan Paing Hein,” said his sister. “I didn’t see that my brother was beaten when they took him away, but I heard from another guy who was later released that Yan Paing Hein was beaten, that his nose was broken, and that he couldn’t breathe properly because the blood was clotting in his nose.”

The security forces took Yan Paing Hein to an interrogation facility in Shwe Pyi Thar township. Another man taken that night said that he saw 23 men there that night, including himself, but that when he and others were released at 5 p.m. the next day, he noticed that seven were missing, including Yan Paing Hein.

The authorities have not told the family where Yan Paing Hein is but detainees who were subsequently released told the family they saw him inside Insein prison. The family has sent four packages to the prison, none of which have been returned. Neither the family nor the lawyer have managed to have direct contact with him.

Sai Phyo Htike

On March 14, the authorities arrested Sai Phyo Htike, 23, an engineering student, on the corner of 81st and 21st streets in Mandalay. A friend of his now living abroad said that Sai Phyo Htike was riding home to Sein Pan Ward from an anti-coup protest when a group of armed men in civilian clothes ran in front of him and fired warning shots in the air. Sai Phyo Htike fell from his motorbike and was arrested in front of the No. 8 Police Station. The authorities have provided no details about why he was arrested and have repeatedly denied requests from his family and lawyer to see him. 


Turkey Resumes its Crackdown on Student Protesters

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Police forcefully detain a protester during demonstrations against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rector appointment to Boğaziçi University, April 1 2021, Kadıköy, İstanbul, Turkey.
© 2021 Murat Baykara/Sipa via AP Images

A Turkish court today ordered the release of two student protesters detained since February 4. Şilan Delipalta and Anıl Akyüz were arrested for joining an unauthorized protest against President Erdogan’s controversial appointment of an unelected rector to Turkey’s Boğaziçi University in January. Their detention was just one episode in a broad crackdown on student protesters in Turkey this year.    

Police have responded to peaceful demonstrations with excessive force detaining around 700 protesters since January – the majority of whom have been released shortly afterwards. At least five students were reportedly detained for carrying LGBT flags on March 25. The latest images of violent arrests of student protesters, 35 of whom were detained for a few hours on April 1, showed police grabbing some students by the throat and throwing them to the ground. These shocking images show growing government intolerance for students demonstrating against what they see as the Erdogan government’s bid to control higher education through the appointment of rectors.

At least 12 students have spent periods in pretrial detention and dozens currently face prosecution on charges such as “resisting police orders,” “violating the law on demonstrations,” and “inciting public hatred” for merely exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Authorities have imposed restrictive measures on dozens of other students including house arrest, travel bans, and judicial controls requiring they sign in at the nearest police station on a regular basis. Boğaziçi University has also placed dozens of students under disciplinary investigation, accusing them of  “insulting campus security personnel” and “organizing unauthorized protests on campus,” which could result in temporary or permanent expulsion from the university.

Turkey’s authorities should urgently drop their policy of crushing peaceful student protests, respect the rights of assembly and expression, and drop all arbitrary charges and sanctions against students for their involvement in them.

Boğaziçi University too should drop the ongoing disciplinary investigations against students and not misuse its authority to silence dissent on campus.