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A Victim of Police Brutality in Myanmar Seeks Justice While Confronting Racist Comments on Social Media

Kyaukdata police station in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo via Google Map Streetview.

A Myanmar man is facing a backlash online and in the justice system, after reporting that he was arrested arbitrarily by the police.

On his Facebook account, the young man described how a group of men in civilian clothes — who claimed to be police officers — attempted to arrest him while he was on the street using his phone at night of January 18.

Frightened by the situation, the man ran inside a nearby hotel to ask for help. The hotel staff refused to help and turned him over to the same police officers, who then took him to the police station. The man said the plainclothes officers verbally and physically abused him while they were en route to the station.

“ရဲတွေမှန်ရင် ဖမ်းဝရမ်းပါလား၊ ခင်ဗျားတို့ ကျနော့်ကိုဘာအမှုနဲ့ ဖမ်းမှာလဲ”လို့ ကျနော်ထပ်မေးပါတယ်။ […] “ဖမ်းဝရမ်းပါစရာမလိုဘူး၊ ငါတို့ကရဲတွေကွ”ဆိုပြီးကျနော့်ကို ၆ယောက်လုံးက လုံးထွေးပြီး ရိုက်နှက်ပြီးကားနောက်ဖုံးထဲကို အတင်းစောင့်တွန်းပြီးတင်ပါတယ်။

[When I was caught, I asked them] “If you are police, do you have warrant to arrest me? On what charge do you arrest me?” […]

Then they said: “We are police, we don't warrant” and then all 6 of them beat me together and pushed me into the back of the car.

He was released on the same night when his father arrived at the police station. A week after he was released, he wrote about his experience on his Facebook page.

The story quickly went viral, receiving over a thousand shares in just one night, and was subsequently reported on by mainstream media. In his post on January 26, the man recounted his experience and explained why he had to post his story on social media:

နောက်တစ်နေ့မနက်မှာ ကျနော့်သူငယ်ချင်း မောင်ဆောင်းခနဲ့အတူ မြို့နယ်ရဲမှုးဆီကို သွားရောက် တိုင်တန်းပြီး ဒီလိုမျိုး အပြစ်မဲ့တဲ့ နိုင်ငံသားတစ်ယောက်ကို ဥပဒေဘောင်တွေ ရဲလုပ်ထုံး လုပ်နည်းတွေကျော်လွန်ပြီးရိုက်နှက်ဆဲဆို၊ ခြိမ်းခြောက်ဖမ်းဆီးခဲ့တဲ့ကိစ္စကို အရေးယူပေး ဖို့ပြောဆိုခဲ့ပါတယ်။ ဒါပေမယ့် ရဲမှူးကအထက်ကို အမြန်ဆုံးတင်ပြပြီး ဆောင်ရွက်ပေးပါ့မယ်လို့ပြောပြီး ယနေ့ထက်ထိအရေးယူခြင်းမရှိသေးပါဘူး။

The next day I went to the township police officer to report this case and asked them to take action [against the plainclothes officers] for intimidating, unlawfully beating, and arresting an innocent citizen without a warrant. Although the township police officer has promised to bring justice, no action has been taken to this day.

Many Facebook users rallied behind the unlawfully arrested citizen and expressed their support.

One activist invoked provisions in the constitution that guarantee the right to protection and privacy of citizens:

ကျမတို့ အကာအကွယ်တွေ ရပြီး လွတ်လပ်လုံခြုံနေပြီလား ???
ကျမတို့တွေရဲ့ ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာ လွတ်လပ်မှုနှင့် ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာလုံခြုံမှု ကိုရော ကာကွယ်ပေးနေကြရဲ့လား ???

၂၀၁၇ခုနှစ် မတ်လ(၈)ရက်နေ့က အတည်ပြုပြဋ္ဌာန်းထားတဲ့ “နိုင်ငံသားများ၏ ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာ လွတ်လပ်မှုနှင့် ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာလုံခြုံမှုကို ကာကွယ်ပေးရေးဥပဒေ” မှာ အောက်က အခန်းနှစ်ခန်းပါပါတယ်။ ဖတ်ကြည့်ပါ။

[…]

Are we free and safe now? Do we have protection now? Is our right to privacy and the right to personal safety being protected?

In “Citizen Privacy and Personal Safety Protection Law” prescribed on March 8, 2017, there are two sections [that protect his case]. Read below

[…]

Thaw Htet highlighted the fact that the police were not wearing uniforms:

Seems like Burmese police aren't police but thugs who beat up people for no apparent reason. Well, no surprise there.

After the story went viral, the police station's Facebook page denied the accusation and even insinuated that the person had fabricated the incident and his injuries. It also exposed the personal identity of the complainant and mentioned that his religion is Islam, a detail that has no relevance to the incident, but could make the man more vulnerable, due to religious tensions in the country. The post was later deleted.

Screenshot of the post published on the Kyauktada police station Facebook page that was later deleted.

Myat Thu questioned the relevance of citing the religion of the complainant:

လမ်းဘေးမယ် ငုတ်တုပ်ထိုင်ပီး ဖုန်းပွတ်မိလို့
ရဲအရိုက်ခံရတဲ့ ကိုသန်းတိုးအောင်ကိစ္စကို ကျောက်တံတားရဲစခန်းက ပြန်ရှင်းထားတာမှာ
ဘာကြောင့် အစ္စလာမ်လို့ ထည့်ရေးထားတာလဲ?
ပြီးတော့ အဖမ်းခံရချိန်မှာ မင်း ကုလားလား၊ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံသားလား ဘာညာလည်း မေးတယ်ကြားတယ်
Hate Crime လေလား

When Kyaukdata Police Station released a statement to explain the situation, why did they need to mention ‘Islam’ in their statement? They arrested and beat him while he was using his phone on the street at night. And from what I heard, they asked if he was ‘kalar’ or a citizen of Myanmar while he was being arrested.

Could [we] even call it a Hate Crime?

The word “kalar” is derogatory term, typically used to refer to people of east Indian origin in a racist manner. In recent years, it has been used by ultra-nationalists and religious fundamentalists to attack Muslims in Myanmar, especially the Rohingya minority in the northwest part of the country. Rohingya Muslims born in Myanmar are not recognized by the government as an ethnic minority group and thus are typically not recognized as citizens of the country at all, despite it being the place of their birth.

While there were many comments criticizing the actions of the police and their failure to bring the perpetrators to justice, there were also racist comments under his post.

After the story went viral, hate speech comments attacking the complainant based on his facial features, skin color, and ethnic identity became more prominent than the original issue of police brutality.

Hate speech on social media targeting religious minorities in Myanmar has been a disturbing trend since the rise of the ultra-nationalist movement in 2012. The increasingly large number of people who subscribe to extreme Buddhist nationalist ideology in the country have been targeting the Muslim minority and Rohingya people on social media with racist hate speech.

The Yangon Police say they will conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.

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