A former bodyguard and close friend of detained Myanmar national leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by junta security forces last week on charges of communicating with a shadow government formed in opposition to military rule, RFA has learned.
Cherry Htet, a 30-year-old second lieutenant in the Myanmar police, was taken into custody at her office in the capital Naypyidaw on Sept. 21, nearly eight months after former state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted in a military coup and placed under house arrest.
Arrested at the same time was Aung San Suu Kyi’s security team leader, Capt. Pyae Phyo Naing, said a source close to the group, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The bodyguards lived in their dorm and went to work every day. And then both were arrested the other day while at the office, and the military later came to the dormitory and took their clothes and accessories away,” he said.
The pair’s mobile phones had been confiscated two days before their arrest, the source said, adding, “As far as I know, they must have been under watch all this time.”
Cherry Htet had been appointed Aung San Suu Kyi’s bodyguard in late 2016 following the victory of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in a general election the year before, and had accompanied the Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto national leader, on her travels in Myanmar and overseas.
The two gradually became close, with Aung San Suu Kyi giving Cherry Htet a necklace she had personally designed to celebrate her promotion from sergeant to lieutenant, and Htet sewing a face mask for her to wear when Myanmar was hit by its first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cherry Htet was always vigilant for threats to Suu Kyi’s safety during her frequent trips, said an NLD member who was close to both of them.
“When people saw Amay [Mother] Suu during her trips, they would gather around her to cheer and greet her, and Cherry would look so worried for her. Her concern could be seen clearly on her face,” she said, also speaking on condition on condition of anonymity to protect her identity.
“We see her as someone who clearly cares about Amay Suu,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s bodyguards were at their hostel close to the leader’s home when the military launched its Feb. 1 coup, and were unable to protect her from arrest, the NLD member said.
In touch with the resistance
Speaking on Sept. 26 to the Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar, junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said that Cherry Htet had been arrested for communicating with members of the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), formed six months ago by former lawmakers, students, and other activists to work against military rule.
A police statement said that Htet in June had contacted former NLD parliamentarian Thiri Yadanar, who had sent her photos of a jungle camp and weapons used by the resistance, along with formal statements by the NUG, and that the two had also exchanged videos from foreign-based news agencies.
Postings on Cherry Htet’s social media accounts earlier in the year had also called out what she called “injustice” under Myanmar’s military rule and had expressed love and support for Aung San Suu Kyi.
The junta has now filed a case against Htet under Section 505(a) of the country’s Penal Code.
Myanmar’s military justified its February overthrow of the country’s democratically elected government by claiming voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party in the country’s 2020 election.
The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide demonstrations calling for a return to civilian rule, killing 1,146 people and arresting 6,921 over the past eight months, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma).
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.