Vicky Bowman, who served as envoy from 2002 to 2006, was arrested on Wednesday in the commercial hub Yangon. Image Credit: Institute for Human Rights and Business

YANGON: Myanmar authorities have arrested Britain’s former ambassador to the country and her husband, a prominent artist and one-time political prisoner, for allegedly violating immigration laws, a diplomatic source said on Thursday.

Vicky Bowman, who served as envoy from 2002 to 2006, was arrested on Wednesday in the commercial hub Yangon, the source said, requesting anonymity.

A spokesperson for the embassy said they were “concerned by the arrest of a British woman in Myanmar”, without mentioning Bowman by name.

“We are in contact with the local authorities and are providing consular assistance,” they said.

Bowman’s husband Htein Lin was also arrested, the diplomatic source said. Local media said the pair had been taken to Yangon’s Insein prison.

A source with knowledge of Bowman’s case said the pair had been arrested for allegedly violating immigration laws. Each charge carries a maximum of five years in prison.

A junta spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Ties between Myanmar and former colonial ruler Britain have soured since the military takeover in 2021, with the junta earlier this year criticising the UK’s recent downgrading of its mission in the country as “unacceptable”.

Prior to serving as ambassador, Bowman was the second secretary in the UK embassy from 1990 to 1993.

She now works as director at the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business and is a fluent Burmese speaker.

In this file photo taken on November 12, 2015, Myanmar artist Htein Lin, who is an artist-husband of Britain’s former ambassador Vicky Bowman, poses in his studio in Yangon. Image Credit: AFP

Htein Lin took part in the 1988 student uprising against a former junta, and later spent years underground.

He was arrested in 1998 and imprisoned for allegedly opposing the rule of the junta of the time.

After he was freed in 2004, he came to the attention of then-ambassador Bowman for a series of paintings he had made while imprisoned, using smuggled materials.

She persuaded him to let her take the politically sensitive paintings of his life behind bars for his own security.

He later proposed to her during a holiday in Britain by creating a message in the sand on a beach, and the pair married in 2006.

In 2017 Bowman gave a TEDx talk about their courtship and juggling her role as envoy to the junta “when your lover is potentially an enemy of the state”.

‘Provocative step’

“This is a provocative step for the regime to take,” Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“Vicky and Htein Lin are hugely respected and have contributed so much to Myanmar over the decades. The fact that Vicky is the former British ambassador adds further gravity to this case.”

The British government has sanctioned several military-linked companies and individuals following the army’s power grab last year, which triggered mass uprisings and a bloody crackdown on dissent.

On Thursday, Britain announced new sanctions on companies it said had helped raise funds for the military during its 2017 crackdown on the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

Scores of foreign nationals have been caught up in the junta’s crackdown following its takeover.

Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota is currently being held in Insein prison after he was detained last month near an anti-government rally in Yangon.

He is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained in Myanmar, after US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan - all of whom were later freed and deported.