Myanmar: Former British ambassador Vicky Bowman and her husband jailed for one year in the country

A diplomat has said the former Myanmar envoy Vicky Bowman has been jailed for one year in the south-east Asian country.

A court in Myanmar has sentenced a former British ambassador to the south-east Asian nation to a year in prison, a diplomat who has been following her case said.

Independent media in the military-controlled country and the website of BBC’s Myanmar-language service also reported the court’s action.

The diplomat said former envoy Vicky Bowman’s husband, a Myanmar national, was also given a one-year sentence.

Here is all you need to know:

Why has Vicky Bowman been jailed?

The diplomat said that the former envoy and her husband had been jailed for failing to register her residence.

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The diplomat insisted on not being identified because he was not authorised to release such information.

Neither Myanmar’s military government nor the British embassy have publicly confirmed the court’s action.

Vicky Bowman. Picture: Institute for Human Rights and Business

When were the couple arrested?

The couple were arrested on 24 August, the military government announced last week.

It said 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.

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It said she and her husband, Htein Lin, were 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.

What has Vicky Bowman been doing in Myanmar?

She served as the British envoy from 2002 to 2006 in the country.

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.

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Htein Lin, who is Vicky Bowman’s husband, picture: ROMEO GACAD/AFP via Getty Images

Fears charge is part of a wider crackdown

The charge against Bowman has been widely seen as a pretext for cracking down on her for views the government may have considered critical, although her business was operated as a consultancy and did not play a notably vocal role in public affairs.

Who are the government in Myanmar?

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991, became State Counsellor of Myanmar in 2006 following her release from house arrest.

During her time in power, Aung San Suu Kyi faced criticism for the country’s inaction over what has been called a “genocide” of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State.

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Violent repression of the largely Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar amounts to genocide, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said in June 2022.

A UN probe says that atrocities against the Rohingya breach the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Myanmar’s military launched what it called a clearance campaign in Rakhine state in 2017 in the aftermath of an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of Rohingya homes.

In the 2020 elections, her party National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide again.

However in 2021, a military coup d’état was launched and Aung San Suu Kyi was removed from her position as State Counsellor of Myanmar.

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Tatmadaw—Myanmar’s military - removed the government from power and replaced it with the State Administration Council, a military junta.

The Council is chaired by Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Defence Services.

As of 29 March 2022, at least 1,719 civilians, including children, have been killed by the junta forces and 9,984 arrested.

Three prominent NLD members also died while in police custody in March 2021, and four pro-democracy activists were executed by the junta in July 2022.

What is a military junta?

A military junta is, put simply, a government led by a committee of military leaders.

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The term junta comes from the Spanish word for a “civil deliberative or administrative council”.

Famous military juntas include Chile between 1973 and 1990 under the rule of Pinochet.