Myanmar’s junta continues to arrest doctors and other medically-trained workers for participating in a civil disobedience movement to resist the military junta’s 2021 coup, healthcare workers say.
In the months following the February 2021 coup, about 60,000 medical workers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare employees, joined teachers, bankers and engineers who walked off their jobs, bringing the country’s administrative machinery to a halt, defying the junta’s orders to go back to work.
Overt anti-junta protests and activities have faded amid a relentless crackdown by the military on the so-called Civil Disobedience Movement, or any form of opposition, over the past two years, although many doctors have refused to return to their jobs.
Some medical professionals have joined or started private clinics and hospitals to continue their practice. But junta forces are searching for those who have done so or gone into hiding and arresting them.
In December alone, authorities arrested at least 15 medical professionals involved in the movement, according to an Radio Free Asia tally.
“It is obvious that health workers are being targeted by the military as if they were enemies,” said Dr. Sit Min Naing, an official with the CDM Medical Network, a group of anti-junta medical workers.
“We left the government medical sector because we couldn’t continue working for a group of terrorists who unfairly seized the power of the country against the people’s will,” he said.
Destroying Myanmar from within
Since the coup, junta forces have arrested 355 doctors and medical professionals who participated in the movement, and revoked the medical licenses of 557 doctors, whom they then fired, according to the CDM Medical Network.
Medical personnel have also been caught up in police and military raids, which have left 83 doctors and other medical professionals dead since the coup, and another 789 injured, the group found.
Detaining and killing medical doctors and other professionals who are valuable to the country is destroying Myanmar, said Dr. Zaw Wai Soe, minister of health and education under the shadow National Unity Government.
“These people who selfishly crush everyone and everything so that they can stay in power, must not exist,” he said. “These arrests indicate that our country must not have these people who simply lack common sense and the ability to distinguish what is right from wrong.”
Nevertheless, nearly 45,000 healthcare workers are still participating in the movement by defying the junta’s order to return to work in public hospitals, the CDM Medical Network says.
Among those arrested last month was Dr. Win Khaing of Mandalay Medical University, an expert in urology and renal surgery, said a physician with knowledge of the situation.
Military officers in civilian clothing arrested Win Khaing on Dec. 25 while he was providing treatment to patients at a private clinic in Mandalay’s Chan Aye Tha San township, said the doctor, who also was part of the movement.
The junta now is planning to arrest other medical professionals in connection with Win Khaing, he said.
Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA in March 2022 that the regime had to take legal action against those who participated in the movement because they were the main source of encouragement for anti-military activities.
He also said it was unacceptable for medical professionals in the movement to work at private clinics instead of government hospitals.
The military is randomly arresting doctors – even in their homes – who were involved in the movement and who have been providing medical treatment at private hospitals, the physician said.
The junta has gone after other doctors in Mandalay, and ordered five private hospitals, including Nan Taw, Myo Taw, Kankaw, Htet Nay Lin and Sein Pan, where physicians who participated in the movement work, to shut down for four months as of Jan. 1, sources said.
The State Administration Council, the formal name of the junta, took the measures as a threat to private hospitals not to hire doctors who refuse to work in public hospitals under the military regime, said a Mandalay resident.
“Some hospitals cannot operate without professionals, so some of them joined these private hospitals and worked for them after they distanced themselves from the military-operated hospitals,” said the resident, who declined to be named for security reasons.
“Now, the situation is that the hospital owners dare not employ these doctors or nurses or whoever is involved in the movement, because of these problems,” the person said.
Soldiers also arbitrarily arrested Myint Moh Kyaw, a doctor at Kalay Public Hospital in northwestern Sagaing region, at a checkpoint in the town of Kalay on Dec. 26, a township healthcare worker said.
The physician, who joined the civil disobedience movement during its early days, had opened his own medical practice in Mingalar Garden and was treating patients there.
Following his arrest, other health care professionals became concerned that military authorities would arrest other doctors and nurses who had participated in the movement, said the source who declined to be named for safety reasons.
Myint Moh Kyaw, who treated many patients and charged them low fees for medical treatment and surgery, encouraged young people to participate in street protests against the military regime, the health care worker said.
“We have to be on alert now that Dr. Myint Moh Kyaw has been arrested,” the person said.” We always have to check our surroundings.”
Translated by Myo Min Aung for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Malcolm Foster.