Myanmar junta revokes citizenship of NUG members, other activists

Myanmar’s military rulers this week stripped 16 shadow government members and political activists of their citizenship, saying those working in hiding to oppose junta rule had “left the country forever” to commit unlawful actions against the state.

Announced on March 4 and 7, the revocations invoked Section 16 of Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law in a move described as illegal by victims, lawyers and human rights activists who said the country’s military, which overthrew civilian rule in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup, had no authority to issue the order.

Named in the junta’s move were 10 members of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) set up in safe areas of the country to oppose military rule, including Zaw Wai Soe, Ye Mon, Lwin Ko Latt, Khin Ma Ma Nyo, Aung Myo Min and Zin Mar Aung.

Also listed in the announcement were six prominent political activists including Min Ko Naing, Myo Yan Naung Thein, Maung Maung Aye, Ei Pencilo and popular singer Saung Oo Hlaing.

Responding to the junta’s order, NUG members named in the move said that Myanmar’s military leaders have no jurisdiction to make rulings based on national law.

“We have called the Military Council a terrorist organization ever since the beginning of the coup,” NUG Home and Immigration Minister Lwin Ho Latt told RFA, referring to the junta’s ruling State Administration Council.

“This group has no right to apply the 1982 Citizenship Law. It is not the legitimate government of the country, so I don’t think this move will affect us at all,” he added.

NUG Minister of Commerce and Industry Khin Ma Ma Myo agreed. “They are an illegal government that unseated a legitimate government and now kills and tortures people,” he said. “They are the opposite of what a democracy and true federal government should be.

“Actually, we as the country’s elected representatives should be the ones enforcing the law against them. The people already know who should be accepted as citizens and who should rule this country,” he said.

NUG members have not taken citizenship in any other country, a move that would violate Section 16 of the 1982 Citizenship Law, and the junta’s revocation of members’ citizenship will have no effect on NUG outreach to other countries through diplomatic channels, he added.

“We have not left Myanmar to this day. We are still working within the country’s borders,” said Ei Thinzar Maung, NUG Deputy Minister for Women, Youth and Children. “We are still alive and carrying out the revolution, so the military’s announcement has no effect on us at all. I don’t think we need to react to it.”

Reached for comment, junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun said that by revoking political opposition figures’ citizenship, military authorities had acted according to the law.

“Article 16 says that if you leave the country permanently and violate existing laws, the government has the right to cancel your citizenship," he said. “It was within the government’s authority to do this. We took this move because [the persons named in the order] have violated Article 16."

'Nothing to do with the law'

A veteran high court lawyer said however that revoking the citizenship of NUG government members and political activists was not in line with provisions of the law.

“A person loses their citizenship only when they take up citizenship in another country. It can’t be lost for any other reason,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“One can be sentenced to death for treason or for betraying the country, but even then one’s citizenship can’t be revoked,” he said.

The junta’s move against the NUG members and activists is simply an attempt to destroy the military’s political opposition and has nothing at all to do with the law, he said.

“The junta is just trying to find ways to remove their opposition,” agreed Aung Myo Min, the NUG Human Rights Minister. “This is a violation of human rights.”

Houses, other property seized

Junta authorities have meanwhile stepped up their confiscation of property owned by opposition figures, with nearly 100 houses belonging to National League for Democracy (NLD) members seized within the last 13 months, 60 of them taken since the beginning of 2022, NLD sources say.

Authorities have also sealed off property belonging to members of other opposition groups, including the Democracy Party for New Society (DPNS) and the Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), sources say.

“They regard anyone opposing them as their enemy, said DPNS joint secretary Hnn Hnin Hmwe. “They have been making arbitrary arrests, killing people, looting and burning houses, raping women, confiscating homes and destroying public property to spread fear among the people,” she said.

Homes belonging to Civil Disobedience Movement police captain Tin Mun Tun, film director Ko Pauk, actress Chit Thu Wai, pop singer Chan Chan and prominent social media activists have also been cordoned off by junta authorities, sources say.

Singer Chan Chan said in a posting on social media that others resisting military rule in Myanmar have lost more than their homes, however.

“There are many who have already lost their lives or limbs. Their sacrifices are much greater,” she said. “I am only losing my property, which I may be able to replace later on. I expected long ago that this could happen, and I’m determined to strive on now until evil is defeated by good.”

Other persons suspected of anti-coup activity and summoned to appear in court have had their homes confiscated when they failed to turn up, said Kyaw Lin, chairman of the Insein Township Election Commission in Yangon.

“They told me on the phone to come to court, but I didn’t go, and they said they would send another summons along with a warrant. They said that if they have to call a third time, they will take away my house,” he said.

Family members of persons sought by the police have also seen their houses seized, and shops and other buildings have been confiscated, with five houses in the Taze township of northern Myanmar’s Sagaing region closed because of their owners’ connection to anti-junta militia groups.

A barbecue shop in Mandalay’s Aungmyaythazan district and social welfare association in the Maha Aungmyay township were also closed in February, sources said.

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