Myanmar authorities have detained 18 nurses from the National Health Services Party over the last month and are accusing them of spying, defaming the military and violating the law by assisting Buddhist monks and others involved in anti-junta demonstrations.
Military officials said on Saturday that the people arrested were being detained under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act, which has been used as a whipping boy to silence dissent and has drawn widespread criticism for its questionable vagueness.
Nurses, teachers and other nonmilitary workers have protested frequent civilian killings and forced displacement and other human rights abuses by the military in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar.
But those detained in Myanmar have faced a slightly different legal threat: The nurses are among more than 150 people suspected of working for the Democratic Union Army, a quasi-civilian rebel group that has been accused of human rights abuses.
The group, known by its Burmese name, the Wa National Army, is loosely aligned with the Maoist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. The group has undergone a violent transformation since the 2008 military coup that ousted longtime leader Than Shwe, and the relationship has deepened since October 2015, when the military was ordered to disarm after years of attacks and destabilizing civilian violence.
The Wa are renowned for shooting jungle guns and rice into neighboring India and assembling hundreds of Mi-24 attack helicopters for the military, the world’s second-largest.