Former ambassador Bowman's husband Htein Lin, a prominent artist, was also arrested, the diplomatic source said
Former ambassador Bowman's husband Htein Lin, a prominent artist, was also arrested, the diplomatic source said

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, the junta said on Thursday.

Vicky Bowman, who served as envoy from 2002 to 2006, was detained for failing to declare she was living at an address different from the one listed on her foreigner's registration certificate, a junta statement said.

Her husband Htein Lin was arrested for helping his wife reside at an address different to their registered home in commercial hub Yangon, it added.

A spokesperson for the British embassy in Yangon 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.

A source with knowledge of the matter said Bowman and Htein Lin had been taken to Yangon's Insein prison.

A hearing had been set for September 6, although it was not known what would take place then, the source added.

Breaching immigration law 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 a military takeover in 2021, with the junta 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 British embassy from 1990 to 1993.

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

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

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

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

She persuaded him to let her take the politically sensitive artwork 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".

"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 firms 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 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 held 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.