Junta authorities monitor and restrict champion gymnast featured in RFA report

An internationally recognized gymnast from Yangon is being kept under surveillance by military junta police and plainclothes intelligence officers, according to sources close to the family. 
Radio Free Asia’s Burmese service profiled 21-year-old Thae Su, who is also a bodybuilder, on June 13, which included footage of her performing acrobatic gymnastics, and reported that she is no longer able to train because of her family’s financial situation.
The video on RFA Burmese’s Facebook page drew more than 6 million views in the first 24 hours and attracted a lot of attention from local media, businessmen and from Burmese people around the world. 
Local businessmen and well wishers donated money to Thae Su’s family in the days after the broadcast, according to the sources. Some Burmese people living abroad contacted RFA asking how to help her and her family. 
But on June 15, administrative officials from Yangon’s Dala township, military intelligence and armed plainclothes officers entered her home as a local media crew was filming, the sources said. 
The officers threatened the film crew and told them they couldn’t shoot footage without permission from junta officials, according to the witnesses and neighbors.

The armed men also told Thae Su not to talk to any more reporters. RFA has been unable to contact her family since last week and sources said plainclothes intelligence officers have been seen watching the family house. 
It was unclear why junta authorities have cracked down on the family.
‘The flag of Myanmar was wrapped around me’
Thae Su told RFA that she first became interested in sports in 2014 after going to a summer aerobics class – thinking it was a dance class – on the day of her fifth grade final exam. 
Since then, she’s competed in physique gymnastics, acrobatic gymnastics, wushu and bodybuilding, winning at least 20 prizes at township, district and regional level competitions. 
In 2019, she won first prize in the women’s fitness physique open category at the Southeast Asian Bodybuilding and Sports Competition in Myanmar. She also took third place at the World Bodybuilding and Fitness Competition in South Korea that same year. She was only 18 years old at that time. 
“No year was more joyful than 2019,” she told RFA for the June 13 broadcast. “I was on the stage when I was receiving those medals. I was feeling so proud and happy when the flag of Myanmar was wrapped around me on the stage. I had never felt like that before.”
Thae Su’s grandmother and father did whatever work they could get – rain or shine – to pay for her training, transportation and food. Her grandmother sold dried fish and various grocery products while her father drove a motorcycle taxi.
The grandmother, Ohn Shwe, told RFA that it was all worth it. 
“She won third prize in an international competition. Among the many contestants from many countries, she won third place,” she told RFA. “That made me so happy.”
But recently, Ohn Shwe has been unable to sell at markets as she recovers from COVID-19. And Thae Su’s father, Zaw Min Oo, hasn’t been able to find work after junta authorities banned the use of motorcycles in Dala township earlier this year. 
“I want her to be very successful. I want her to become a sports captain as she wishes,” he said. “But since I am old, not many people call me for work. As I can’t drive motorcycles anymore due to the ban, I can’t hope too much.”
The family moved to a new location five months ago when the legal land owner showed up in their previous location. Thae Su said hasn’t been able to train at her gym because she can no longer afford the 2000 kyats, or just under one U.S. dollar, for public transportation. 
“Her sports career seems to have stopped now,” Ohn Shwe said. “We have been through a lot of trouble.”
Sources said this week that the family has refused to accept any more donations following the warnings from officials. RFA tried unsuccessfully to contact Thae Su and her family on Wednesday. 
RFA also tried to reach junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun by telephone for comment but he didn’t immediately respond. 
Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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