Arrest of 6 Myanmar nationals leads to protests at Singapore embassies in Tokyo and Washington

It was reported in the media today (‘Myanmar groups stage protests at S’pore embassies‘, 18 Jul) that Myanmar nationals sympathetic to the rebel Arakan Army (AA) staged a coordinated demonstrations outside of Singapore embassies in Tokyo yesterday and Washington on Monday. They were protesting against the Singapore Government’s arrest and deportation of leaders of the Singapore Arakan Association.

The protestors were seen carrying banners denouncing the Singapore government as a “slave of Myanmar Army”. Others held up banners calling on the Singapore Government to “stop giving up Arakanese” to the Myanmar government. The protestors were incensed that the Singapore government had deported their fellow comrades back to Myanmar despite knowing the Myanmar Army is “committing war crimes in ethnic regions”.

The 6 Myanmar nationals whom the Singapore government has arrested and deported back to Myanmar were allegedly supporters of AA, which is fighting for the greater autonomy of the Rakhine state in Myanmar. According to media reports, Ministry of Home Affairs took action based on its assessment that the individuals posed a security threat, having used Singapore as a staging ground to solicit support, and raise funds, for armed violence.

They were said to be involved in a recent event held at a PA’s community club to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the AA and its political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA). Participants depicted the AA’s armed offensive against the Myanmar Armed Forces’ actions in Rakhine state, and actors were dressed in military uniforms with replica firearms.

Most of those deported reportedly also belong to the Singapore Arakan Association​​​​​​​, described as “a social welfare organisation that contributes relief aid from Singapore to the Arakanese displaced in the north of Rakhine State”. The fate of the 6 remains unknown under the hands of Myanmar Army.

Not connected to AA

The Arakan Youths Union (Japan), which organised the Tokyo segment of the protests, said in a statement that the arrested individuals were “not connected” with AA but instead were aiding Arakanese refugees in Myanmar. It added that the AA was not a terrorist organisation but a legitimate rebel army.

The group from the Arakan American Community even delivered a letter to the Singapore embassy in Washington regarding the arrest of the 6 Myanmar nationals in Singapore. A spokesperson at the embassy said it will “convey the letter to (the) relevant authorities”. Presumably, he will be handling the letter to his boss, Vivian Balakrishnan, the Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Meanwhile, the US has banned Myanmar’s army chief and four other generals from entering America for their role in human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings in the Rakhine state during the military-led ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in August 2017.

No answer as to why CC was used by foreigners for political cause

A member of the public, Gabriel Cheng Kian Tiong, wrote to ST Forum on Tuesday questioning People’s Association on why a facility of community club was used by foreigners to further their political causes.

“A community club is basically a place for citizen-oriented activities and the fact that Myanmar nationals used it for their political causes in this instance is an abuse of trust,” Mr Cheng noted.

“What is more, they also held a gathering at a community club hall here to celebrate an event that led to the promotion of violent acts against a foreign government.”

Mr Cheng was referring to the recent arrest of several Myanmar nationals for using Singapore to mobilize support of their Arakan Army in Myanmar (‘Group of Myanmar nationals deported, more details surface‘, 12 July). In particular, the foreigners had used the hall of a community club for this purpose. Mr Cheng finds this to be “disturbing”.

Mr Cheng also noted, “Foreigners may also rent function rooms in hotels or commercial buildings to propagate their political ideas. Government agencies should work closely with stakeholders such as building owners to ensure their facilities are rented out for legitimate purposes.”

“If not, some may unwittingly be accomplices to causes that are damaging to their public image,” he said and further asked if there are checks conducted when foreign nationals want to use the club hall for their activities, and if there are any penalties imposed if what is stated is different from what is carried out.

No public statements have been made by the People’s Association so far.