Ex-British envoy to Myanmar arrested on immigration charges

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BANGKOK (AP) — A former British ambassador to Myanmar who now heads a business ethics advisory group in the Southeast Asian country has been arrested on charges of violating immigration laws by failing to register her change of address, the military government said Thursday.

Its “Tatmadaw True News Information Team” confirmed in a text message that Vicky Bowman, who served as the British envoy in 2002-2006, was detained for failing to inform the authorities last year when she and her husband moved from their registered address in Yangon, the country's biggest city, to Kalaw township in Shan state in east-central Myanmar.

It said she was charged under the Immigration Act and the Foreigners Registration Rules. It said 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.

Failure to change the address on her official residence permit registration card makes her liable to six months to five years’ imprisonment, it said. It did not clearly explain what the punishment was for the other alleged offense.

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, 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. Phone calls to the organization for comment went answered.

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 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.

It said her husband, Myanmar artist Htein Lin, was also detained and charged with abetting the failure to register the proper address, That charge, also under immigration law, carries the same punishment.

A friend of Htein Lin, who asked that her name not be used because of fear of government reprisal, told The Associated Press that the were taken by security forces on Wednesday while they were temporarily staying in Yangon.

A British Embassy spokesperson told The Associated Press in an email that “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 because of privacy concerns.

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 U.N. experts characterize as a civil war.

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

Grant Peck, The Associated Press