After their arrest on Monday night, 18 healthcare workers in Loikaw are now walking free, Ko Banyar of the Karenni Human Rights Group said. Those arrested were accompanied by two nuns and a priest to the prison, where they were interrogated Tuesday morning.
After weeks of fighting and junta raids on Loikaw, Kayah (Karenni) State’s capital, healthcare workers were arrested when 200 soldiers and military police stormed the Christ the King cathedral compound on Monday night. In what some are calling a blatant attack on Christianity, 40 patients in the Garuna Compassion Clinic were also forced to move, including four who were infected with Covid-19. The 18 healthcare workers included four doctors, as well as several nurses, pharmacists, and volunteers, according to reports from the Union of Catholic Asian News. The junta also reportedly removed records of medical equipment.
“This is a very awful incident. It doesn’t fit with our humanitarian principles,” Ko Banyar said, adding that the clinic had offered free healthcare for two decades. “People from Loikaw, Demoso, Hpruso, and other places are used to coming over here for healthcare service because it’s free of charge and doctors and nurses are reliable 24-hours a day on standby.”
After being interrogated Tuesday morning, the group was released that same evening. State media reported the incident on 8 pm Tuesday night, causing confusion for the Loikaw community, who grew concerned that the healthcare workers might have been rearrested. Although 505(a) cases were opened against several of the staff, Ko Banyar says there’s been no move from the SAC to try to recapture, and the case was settled on a township level.
According to the report by state media last night, the SAC says it conducted an investigation on the compound, stating it had opened illegally and that the staff and patients present at the time of the raid was also illegal—though the report failed to specify what this meant. Listed under ‘unlawful’ were the 18 medical personnel, a surgical room, dozens of patients, 13 fathers, 13 sisters, and 14 vehicles, four of which were unregistered. The report stated that 48 people who received illegal healthcare at the clinic were transferred to Loikaw’s General Hospital on November 22.
Given the recent attacks on Christian communities in Chin, Southern Shan, Kachin, and Kayah States, Ko Banyar says he believes the medical professionals could be rearrested easily if the compound and Garuna clinic continue to be targeted. The compound’s efforts in providing food and assistance for internally displaced persons make a hit on the church especially dangerous, as it could harm the entire city and its growing number of internally displaced persons.
“Because of this raid and arrest, we worry the military could attack and harm the public’s health care services, they could disappear,” he said. “Raiding faith-based or religious-based compounds is breaking human rights and halting the humanitarian process.”