A Muslim interfaith activist has been arrested after posting online a photo of himself holding a gun during a visit to conflict-torn Kachin State in 2013, his friends have said.
Zaw Zaw Latt, who is also a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, was apprehended in Mandalay on Tuesday evening by plain-clothes officers from the Criminal Investigation Department, a friend and fellow activist told DVB on Thursday.
Known only be the name of Shine, the fellow activist said Zaw Zaw Latt is being held under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, which prohibits interaction with groups declared illegal by the government. He added that the activist was invited for a meeting at a café near the Mandalay Palace moat before being led away in handcuffs.
Section 17(1) has been criticised by rights groups as a tool for stifling dissent.
“The police tried to take him and he refused,” said Ki Ki, a friend who witnessed the arrest. “They were all pulling him.” A struggle ensued, he added, as Zaw Zaw Latt held hands with one of his colleagues, but officers eventually prised the two apart.
But his friends say the picture is being used as a pretext to arrest him because of his activism. Shine said he believes the real reason the activist was arrested is because of his work promoting dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims.
“For the last two months there have been lots of online attacks against him,” he said. “Extremists don’t like him being close with the Buddhist community. He has a beard and is standing next to monks in pictures.”
He added that Zaw Zaw Latt, who works alongside monks at a Mandalay-based interfaith group called Thint Myant Lo Thu Myar [translates as ‘People who want to live in harmony’], tried to calm rioters during inter-communal violence in the city last year.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group that tracks political prisoners in Burma, said it was looking into the arrest.
Zaw Zaw Latt “made a mistake” by posting the picture of himself with such a weapon, said Shine, but he added that the post was harmless. “Burmese people, we have never seen a real gun … When we get the chance to hold one, we want to just for posting,” he said.
The assault rifle in the picture is thought to be an MA-1, a Burmese-made version of the Israeli Galil rifle.
The Criminal Investigation Department, a special arm of the police force, could not be reached for comment on Thursday, nor could the NLD.