Rising filmmaker Ma Aeint has disappeared without trace after being arrested by authorities in Myanmar earlier this month. Her family has no knowledge of her whereabouts, nor formal explanation for her sudden detention.
Ma Aient was a producer and co-writer on “Money Has Four Legs,” which appeared in the New Currents competition at the Busan International Film festival in 2020. She was also a regular participant at co-production and project promotion events intended to boost independent film making in Asia. These included the SEAFIC Open Fair, Ties That Bind, FAMU Summer Filmmaking Initiation Campus and the Locarno Festival’s Open Doors consultancy.
She was picked up by authorities in Yangon shortly after leaving home around midday on June 5, 2021. The next day, family members in Myanmar were informed of her arrest. They were told that she is being housed at an undisclosed place of interrogation. There has not been any communication with her since her disappearance.
Ma Aeint’s disappearance has alarmed film institutions in Asia. On Tuesday, the Busan festival issued a statement urging respect for her safety and civil rights. It was co-signed by eleven other festivals in South Korea. Thailand-based SEAFIC did the same.
Media and civil society have come under direct attack since Myanmar’s already-powerful military forces mounted a coup on Feb. 1, 2021. The coup followed several years of nominal power-sharing between the military and a civilian government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. Military-backed parties were defeated in a general election in November 2020, but the military claims that the poll was rigged.
Since taking back full control of national institutions, military forces have shot and killed several hundred anti-coup protesters, taken control of the media, shut down much of the internet and arrested journalists. This makes it difficult to learn information quickly and to verify it.
Variety spoke to Ma Aient’s producer-director colleague Maung Sun who remains in Myanmar, and to her sister who lives in the U.S.
“On Sunday, June 6th afternoon, a few officials (not military) from the county office informed my aunt who resides at my late grandmother’s house that Ma Aeint has been detained by the military and is being held at one of the military interrogation stations. They didn’t provide who exactly came and told them. They just said, ‘Military’ and one of the secret interrogation stations. It was not the police who took her,” said sister Su Wai.
“We are talking to a political lawyer as it could be a case of mistaken identity, of political agenda. It happens a lot lately and only the military handles such matters,” said Su Wai.
“We don’t know which (interrogation) office she is at. There are around five offices around Yangon and they are infamous for torture and ill treatment,” said Maung Sun. “Many people have perished while in interrogation, in just a few days.”
Maung Sun said that, following the arrest of Ma Aeint, their company office had also been raided. He acknowledged that speaking out might cause problems for himself. “But then again, they already have some of my information, since they raided my office,” he said. “The most important thing is that Ma Aeint is well treated in interrogation.”
“My sister is a kind-hearted person who would give the shirt off her back to anyone. She is a smart businesswoman, a successful movie producer and a philanthropic person who used to work with the UN in Myanmar. She doesn’t deserve any of this,” said Su Wai. “We, as a family, are open to cooperation with anyone. We have nothing to hide, and (Ma Aeint) should be treated with respect and no harm should be done to her during her arrest and detaining period.”
“The citizens and filmmakers of Myanmar including the producer, Ma Aeint are facing a horrendous reality in fear of their lives. The (Korean film) festivals strongly condemn the ongoing violence in Myanmar and urge release of the producer, Ma Aeint. Furthermore, we ask all the related authorities to protect her safety and civil rights fairly,” said Busan and the other Korean festivals in an emailed statement.
“We at SEAFIC are extremely concerned for (Ma Aeint’s) well-being, and would like to demand for her immediate release. Her safety and well-being are of utmost importance. Moreover, we urge the Myanmar military to cease the crackdown on its filmmakers and free those who have been arrested immediately,” said SEAFIC.