Military and police forces in Myanmar raided a clinic inside a Catholic church compound in the Diocese of Loikaw in the country’s eastern state of Kayah, arresting four doctors and 14 nurses.
A report on Radio Free Asia said 60 patients were transferred from the Church-run Mercy Clinic at the Christ the King Catholic Church compound to hospitals under military control.
A report on Radio Veritas Asia said the soldiers took away medical equipment and “forcibly closed” the health center on November 22.
“That was a deliberate and violent attack against the healthcare workers, the patients … and the minority Catholics in the country,” the report quoted a Jesuit priest identified as Father Wilbert Mireh.
“While we’re so worried about those arrested unjustly and all patients who have been moved forcibly despite their serious health conditions, we’re also very much disheartened by the loss of precious medical equipment,” said the priest.
He said the loss of the “invaluable sets of equipment … will negatively affect many who require medical help, especially in this country with the collapse of its healthcare system.”
The arrested health workers were held for questioning at an interrogation center.
“The compound was closed and searches were made from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 in the afternoon,” a source said in a report on Radio Free Asia.
The report said other buildings, including the office of the priest were also ransacked during the search.
“The four doctors were involved in charity work, and the rest were nurses and volunteers. They were all taken away yesterday for investigation and have not been released,” said the RFA report on Tuesday, November 23.
Sources said a Catholic priest and two nuns accompanied the medical workers who were taken away at gunpoint in three vehicles owned by the church.
Residents of the area said that the Mercy Clinic had provided free treatment for people of all ethnic groups for more than 20 years, with the elderly and chronically ill among the majority of its patients.
Health workers involved in the nonviolent Civil Disobedience Movement resisting military rule in Myanmar had treated patients at the clinic for about five months, sources said.
The RFA report quoted local residents saying that they believe the government troops might have suspected that People’s Defense Force fighters were also being treated at the clinic.
A Church official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the military had appeared only to target Civil Disobedience Movement health workers treating patients at the site.
The Karenni Human Rights Group said the military raid at Mercy Clinic had violated international law.
“It is very clear that raids on religious buildings and clinics are against international humanitarian laws, and arresting health workers is a violation of these regulations,” said group’s director.
“The junta is violating the basic human right to life by raiding clinics that are providing public health services,” he added.
Military forces have detained a total of 174 people so far in Kayah state since the February 1 coup that overthrew the National League for Democracy civilian government.
The arrest of the health workers came less than a week after a former legislator was nabbed by authorities in Yangon for allegedly orchestrating several attacks on junta targets.
Phyoe Zeyar Thaw, who once represented the capital Naypyidaw’s Zabu Thiri township constituency, was taken into custody on Thursday by about 70 soldiers and police officers.
The arrest was featured in pro-military media with photos of Phyoe Zeyar Thaw kneeling in handcuffs with bruises on his face along with a gun and some ammunition.
Authorities also arrested Phyo Zeyar Thaw’s sister Khin Pa Pa Thaw in a raid on her home in Yangon on Friday morning, said a source close to the family.
Youths make up the one of the largest demographic groups targeted for arrest by the military in Yangon, according to Zeyar Lwin, a leader of the Takatha University Alumni Association, in a report on Radio Free Asia.