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Election officials detained in Myanmar 'in bid to prove fraud'

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Aung San Suu Kyi casts her ballot in October during advance voting at the Union Election Commission office in Myanmar. After a coup, the ruling military is trying to prove election fraud despite international monitors saying there was no evidence of that

Myanmar’s military government is detaining election commission officials in night-time raids and asking them to provide evidence that November’s election was rigged, according to a senior member of the organisation and a human rights watchdog.

The Tatmadaw justified its 1 February coup by alleging widespread irregularities in the vote, won decisively by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, but their claims have been rejected by the Union Election Commission (UEC), the organisation responsible for administering elections in Myanmar.

The campaign of arrests and intimidation of UEC officials has raised concerns the military is seeking to pressure the commission to give their backing to its election fraud claims.

International monitors have said the general election, won by the National League for Democracy in a landslide, was fair.

A senior member of the UEC, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several high-ranking personnel from the organisation in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing and Bago townships had been detained over the past two days, following an earlier run of military detention of UEC officials last week. They said they understood similar arrests had taken place in other parts of the country.

Videos have appeared on social media appearing to show some of the late-night detentions of UEC officials, including one from the central Myanmar city of Meiktila.

The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP), a civil-society organisation that documents legal abuses, said in a statement it had verified that UEC officials were being arrested and provided a list of 20 names of those confirmed to have been caught up in the sweep, though the figure is thought to be larger.

“The senior officers were told to write down that fraud happened,” the UEC official said. “They were treated well, provided with food, facilities when they were detained. They were asked about voter lists as well. It seems the reason they took other senior people is to discuss issues with ballot papers.”

They added: “All election commission officials are in big trouble. The military is the one who made the fraud accusations, seized power, and is now doing investigations to confirm their claims.”

“So even if all UEC staff cooperate fully in the investigation process, the result and decision will be set by the military – so the UEC cannot protect our democratic integrity and the truth,” they said.

“And we can’t protest or tell the people what’s going on because we’d be charged, too.”

The Guardian has verified the identity of the senior UEC official and their position within the organisation.

A number of apparent arrests of UEC officials have been captured in livestream videos over the past two days, accompanied by calls from family members for their relatives to be released.

A family member of a detained UEC officer, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, said his relative had been treated well in detention and “not suffered any force yet”. But he was concerned his relative might be endangered if they did not comply with the military investigation.

The presence of so many livestreamed arrests was no coincidence, he added. As news of the detentions spread, many UEC officers and their families coordinated plans to document and publicise new arrests.

“We citizens made a plan,” he said. “If there’s … someone in front of the house despite curfew, you automatically know what’s their business.”

Concerns about the detentions are featuring in the nationwide protest movement that has emerged since the coup, with some on Thursday carrying signs calling for a stop to “kidnappings”.

A woman in Matupi township in Chin state posted on Facebook on Wednesday night that “military officers from a nearby base” were calling to interrogate her husband, who served on the district election subcommission. Local media has reported that another three UEC officials were arrested in Hakha, the capital of Chin state.

Mark Farmaner, the director of the Burma Campaign UK, said he was aware of the detentions. “In the middle of the night security forces in plainclothes are forcing their way into homes and taking people away,” he said.

“In recent nights there has been a wave of arrests of UEC officials. No one knows where they are or what is happening to them. The number of political prisoners in Myanmar has more than doubled since the coup.”

Several student activists and other civil-society leaders have been arrested in recent days as a civil disobedience campaign has gained momentum.

In public remarks this week the military stood by its claims of election fraud and said it would hold another election and hand power to the winner. But it declined to provide a time-frame for the new poll, and the state of emergency it declared last week is scheduled to last for at least a year.