The United Kingdom’s former ambassador to Myanmar has been charged with immigration offenses by the country’s military junta, it said in a statement Thursday, after she and her husband were taken into custody the night before.
Myanmar authorities alleged the address Vicky Bowman had registered to her visa did not match her residence, according to military junta’s statement. Breaches of Myanmar’s Immigration Act carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
On Wednesday night, Bowman, who served as the UK’s top diplomat in Myanmar from 2002 to 2006, was detained along with her husband, Myanmar national Htein Lin, according to local media outlets and a person in Yangon with knowledge of the situation.
Myanmar’s military government initially did not announce the detentions. However, local news outlets The Irrawaddy and Myanmar Now and the international news agency Reuters all reported Bowman could be charged under the country’s Immigration Act.
The Irrawaddy reported Bowman and Htein Lin are being held in Yangon’s Insein Prison.
A UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said on Thursday the British government is “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 said.
After serving as an ambassador, Bowman remained in the country as the founder of the non-governmental organization Myanmar Center for Responsible Business.
On Wednesday the UK announced a fresh round of sanctions targeting businesses linked to Myanmar’s junta, which took power in a bloody coup in February 2021. The junta’s statement on Thursday made no reference to the sanctions.
On Thursday the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the measures were being taken “to target the military’s access to arms and revenue.”
Among the firms on the sanctions list are the Star Sapphire Group of Companies, International Gateways Group of Companies and Sky One Construction Company.
The UK government highlighted that the sanctions were being taken exactly five years after a series of brutal attacks carried out by the Myanmar military on Rohingya communities living in the country’s Rakhine state.
The Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim group in Myanmar’s majority Buddhist state, have suffered decades of persecution.
The UK government also announced its intention to intervene in a legal case that will determine whether Myanmar breached its obligations under the United Nations’ Genocide Convention regarding the military’s acts against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017.
“Our decision to intervene in The Gambia v. Myanmar case and a further round of sanctions sends a strong signal of our continued support to seek accountability for the atrocities in 2017 and also restrict the military junta’s access to finance and the supply of arms,” UK Minister for Asia Amanda Milling said.
Milling reiterated the UK’s condemnation of “the Myanmar Armed Forces’ horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing” five years on from the campaign’s launch.
Later on Thursday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told CNN that she was “really concerned” by Bowman’s detention.
“We’re really concerned about it… if a former Ambassador has been detained and her husband, can you imagine what has happened to so many other normal people without influences and without countries that can help them like the UK,” Bachelet said
Bachelet said that the situation in Myanmar remains grave. “Lots of people are being detained. Many houses are still being burned down…. there is still air strikes against villages. The situation is pretty dramatic.”
CNN’s Emmet Lyons and Henry Hullah contributed to this report.