Doctors Under Fire as Burmese Army Target Efforts to Aid Injured Protesters | Myanmar


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Htet Htet Win and her husband returned home late on Sunday evening. He had passed the junta-imposed 8 p.m. curfew when their motorbike drove through the streets of eastern Mandalay. Security forces reportedly shouted at them to stop and then opened fire when they did not. Her husband was shot but managed to escape. She was thrown to the ground.

A grainy photograph taken by a spectator, shows her face down on the concrete, her arms reaching above her head, her purple top and bottom marked with dark spots.

Doctors believed she was still alive, but were told by locals that soldiers were waiting nearby. They feared it was a trap. “I felt like they were ambushing us,” said one of the rescuers. “I think she would have survived if we could have looked for her as soon as it happened,” he said. They waited over an hour before the soldiers finally pulled out. It was too late.

For Myanmar doctors, it is a terribly familiar story. Doctors told the Observer they were regularly targeted by the violence of the army and prevented from treating the victims of its bloody attacks. They recounted incidents in which security forces – trying to quell provocative opposition to the February coup – attacked their facilities, searched and shot their ambulances, arrested, beaten and even killed their colleagues.

Raha Wala, of the Doctors for Human Rights group, said the military “systematically persecuted doctors”, both for treating anti-coup protesters and, in the case of many doctors in the country. government, for participating in a national strike.

Every few days, the news spreads more and more detentions of medical personnel, taken in clinics, demonstrations or their homes during night raids. Some are released after being questioned, others are less fortunate. “If you’re detained today, your body will be returned tomorrow with torture marks or something,” a Yangon-based doctor said in hiding.

On Saturday, orthopedic surgeon and university professor Dr Kyaw Min Soe was taken from his home in Yangon. A photograph apparently taken at the scene shows him being driven in a van with a bag placed over his head and his hands tied behind his back. Since then, two pediatricians have been taken to Mandalay; a dispensary was raided in Yangon, with soldiers detaining four volunteers according to local reports; an establishment was raided in Monywa, where two staff members were taken to the police station for questioning “according to a local source, and another establishment in Kale was reportedly raided, although no staff were present at the time.

According to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, which has traced hundreds of the dead, at least five doctors were killed in the violence. Among them was nursing student Thinzar Hein, 20, who was shot dead while caring for injured protesters in Monywa on March 28. She had protested the coup and shared her medical expertise with others.

A group of black-clad protesters carrying banners walk along a dusty street, cheered by a small group of locals by the side of the road.
Protesters against the coup march through Mandalay earlier this month. Photography: AFP / Getty Images

“It’s like we’re facing barbarians,” said a doctor from Mandalay, who described being shot while trying to treat a patient, while dressed as a medic. “We were wearing scrubs, a medical sign and a stethoscope,” he said. On another occasion, on March 27, his ambulance was hit by a bullet while trying to retrieve an injured patient. His colleagues, he said, were arrested and beaten when they attempted to retrieve a corpse on April 1. “They [the military] want to remove all evidence, ”he said.

In some areas, doctors no longer wear uniforms, fearing this could put them at even greater risk. Government doctors who refuse to work in public hospitals – but find ways to treat patients elsewhere – are particularly vulnerable. They were among the first groups to announce a strike after the coup, which prompted a large number of workers, in services ranging from customs and transport to breakdown tools, which practically crippled the country.

While many governments condemned the violence against peaceful protesters and the UN Security Council expressed concern over restrictions on medical personnel, the brutality continued. Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun accused government medics of murder on Friday, saying their strike contributed to Covid’s death. “They kill people in cold blood,” he said.

At least 618 people have been killed by the military since taking power, while thousands have been arrested, mostly in unknown locations.

“Seeing dying patients isn’t a strange thing for a doctor, but these days it’s heartbreaking because the patients are just teenagers,” a second doctor told Mandalay. If medical teams were able to treat the injured safely, the death toll would not be so high, she added, describing how she once had to flee her clinic, along with patients, when the military approached.

At least 43 children were killed by security forces, the youngest being only six years old.

“We even cry when we do CPR. But we encourage each other, we have to move forward because we can’t be like that, ”the doctor said.

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