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Former British envoy to Myanmar arrested on immigration charges

Diplomat charged with breaching visa rules, military government says

Arpan Rai
Thursday 25 August 2022 21:00 BST
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Related video: Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim crisis explained

A former British ambassador to Myanmar has been arrested on charges of violating immigration laws by failing to register her change of address, the country’s military government has said.

Vicky Bowman, who served as the British envoy between 2002 and 2006 and now heads a business ethics advisory group in the country, was charged under the Immigration Act and the Foreigners Registration Rules.

The government’s “Tatmadaw True News Information Team” said Ms Bowman was detained for failing to inform the authorities last year when she and her husband moved from their registered address.

It said Ms Bowman, who has applied for a visa to do business in Myanmar, was charged with breaching visa rules because she did not comply with regulations governing foreigners.

Britain’s former Myanmar ambassador Vicky Bowman (Tedx Talks)

Failure to change the address on her official residence permit registration card makes her liable to six months to five years’ imprisonment, it said.

The short statement seemed to imply that failure to properly register her address automatically put her in violation of the Immigration Act. The act has catch-all provisions saying that foreigners are guilty of violating the terms of their visas if they are found to have broken other laws.

Since 2013, Ms Bowman has been heading the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, which says its goals include the promotion of human rights through responsible business in Myanmar.

Ms Bowman’s first stint as a diplomat in Myanmar was in 1990-93 as the British embassy’s second secretary.

The government’s statement said Ms Bowman’s husband, Myanmar artist Htein Lin, was also detained and charged with abetting the failure to register the proper address, and a second charge similar to his wife’s.

Htein Lin is an artist and veteran political activist who was a student when he took part in Myanmar‘s failed 1988 uprising against military rule. He was also a political prisoner under a past government.

Myanmar artist Htein Lin poses in his studio in Yangon (AFP via Getty Images)

A friend of Htein Lin, who asked not to be named, said the pair were taken by security forces on Wednesday while they were temporarily staying in Yangon.

A British embassy spokesperson said: “We are concerned by the arrest of a British woman in Myanmar. We are in contact with the local authorities and are providing consular assistance.” The embassy provided no further details.

Myanmar has been under military rule since February 2021, when its army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The takeover triggered widespread peaceful protests that soon erupted into armed resistance, and the country slipped into what some UN experts characterise as a civil war.

According to detailed lists by advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 2,239 civilians have died in the military government’s crackdown on opponents and more than 15,216 people have been arrested.

Additional reporting by PA

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