Authorities in Myanmar have detained the United Kingdom’s former ambassador to the country, where a military junta seized power last year, three people with knowledge of the situation say.
Vicky Bowman, who currently runs the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), and her husband, Htein Lin, a local artist and former political prisoner, were detained on Wednesday, the sources said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A statement from the junta later on Thursday said the couple were being investigated under the Immigration Act for staying at a different address than Bowman’s official registration specified, after moving to a different town.
“It is found that Vicky Bowman violated the immigration act 13/1,” said the statement circulated to journalists.
The law carries a sentence of six months to five years of prison time.
“Htein Lin knew that his wife moved to Kalaw and stayed there, he facilitated the violations without informing the authorities. Therefore, he was charged under section 13/1.”
The junta did not specify whether the couple was in custody but a source said they were in detention at Insein Prison.
The arrest comes as the UK announces that it is imposing fresh sanctions to target military-linked businesses in Myanmar and joining the case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice.
The UK is the fourth country after the Maldives, the Netherlands and Canada to vow formal support for the case brought by the Gambia against Myanmar to determine whether its military conducted genocidal operations against Rohingya Muslims in 2016 and 2017.
Three companies are being penalised with sanctions “in an effort to limit the military’s access to arms and revenue,” the UK government said in a statement on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the Myanmar junta did not answer repeated calls seeking comment.
Myanmar has been in political and economic chaos since the military overthrew an elected government in early 2021.
A British embassy spokesperson in Yangon said: “We are concerned by the arrest of a British woman in Myanmar. We are in contact with the local authorities and are providing consular assistance.”
The spokesperson did not name the individual.
Bowman, 56, served as ambassador to Myanmar from 2002-2006 and has more than three decades’ experience in the country.
Her husband Htein Lin, 55, is one of Myanmar’s most famous artists and a veteran activist who spent six and a half years, between 1998 and 2004, in prison for his opposition to an earlier junta.
The couple had been remanded in custody and were being sent to Insein prison, a source said, the notorious jail on the outskirts of the commercial capital of Yangon where many political prisoners are held.
The source added their young daughter remained “safe and well”.
Bowman is the latest foreigner to be detained in Myanmar.
Sean Turnell, an Australian economist and longtime advisor to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and Japanese freelance filmmaker Toru Kubota also remain in detention.
Their governments have called for them to be released.