Former UK ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman was sentenced to one-year prison on Friday by the junta court. Her husband, Htein Lin, an artist also was sentenced along with Bowman. The sentencing took UK-Myanmar relations to a new low.
The sentencing came on the same day the military junta sentenced civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to three years in prison after accusing her of committing electoral fraud during the November 2020 elections.
Bowman and Lin were arrested in August on charges of violating immigration laws and are being held in Yangon detention centres. Following the arrest, the atmosphere in Yangon and Naypyidaw is that of fear. According to a report by Nikkei Asia, the arrest has dented the morale of big businesses as well.
It also sends out a message that no one is safe from the Myanmarese junta.
An expatriate businessman told Nikkei Asia that big local businessmen were arrested, executives of big businesses harassed and they were also barred from leaving the country.
“The message from Vicky’s arrest and sentencing is that nobody — nobody — is safe, no matter who you are,” the businessman was quoted as saying by Nikkei Asia.
Bowman led the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, an independent research and advocacy group and often spoke out on issues related to businesses.
She and her centre held seminars, conducted research and training sessions with local and foreign businesses. Businessmen and expats also said that the arrest is ‘ironic’ given that despite her differences with the junta, Bowman worked to ensure more and more companies don’t exit Myanmar.
Bowman, however, did raise her concerns about internet restrictions and coercive actions by the Myanmarese junta. Her husband was also a supporter of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and was once a political prisoner.
Bowman spoke Burmese fluently and was also well connected across Myanmar’s political spectrum.
Yangon-based diplomats and expatriates said that the junta used flimsy reasons to arrest the couple. Bowman was arrested for minor violation of immigration reporting requirements, Nikkei Asia reported.
The people mentioned above told the news agency that the arrest was made to set an example and warn expatriates to ‘stay out of internal affairs’.
They also alluded to her husband’s reputation as a high-profile member of the 1988 student activist movement.
Some analysts also said that the sentencing of Bowman could have been a retaliatory move by London’s recent sanctions on several Myanmar military-linked companies which were announced just hours before their arrest.
(with inputs from Nikkei Asia)