Plainclothes Vigilantes Make a Comeback in Rangoon

Members of the vigilante group, bearing red armbands with the word “duty” written in Burmese, prepare to accost student protesters near Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda on Thursday. (Photo: Aung Naing Soe / The Irrawaddy)

Members of the vigilante group, bearing red armbands with the word “duty” written in Burmese, prepare to accost student protesters near Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda on Thursday. (Photo: Aung Naing Soe / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Alone, they would have looked no different from ordinary men on the city streets. Together, they were mobilized and menacing.

In the last two days, two protests have been broken up with the assistance of groups of men in plainclothes, indistinguishable from the public were it not for the red cloth tied around each of their arms, emblazoned with the word “duty” in Burmese.

On Wednesday, they helped police break up the straggling remnants of a strike in the Shwepyithar Industrial Zone, during which a dozen female garment workers were detained alongside two reporters.

On Thursday afternoon they were downtown, attempting to agitate student protesters near Sule Pagoda before police moved in with batons to disperse the demonstration. In some cases, members of the plainclothes group seized and dragged protesters towards flatbed trucks, whereupon they were placed into police custody. A photographer from The Irrawaddy saw the agents provocateurs being shepherded into City Hall, where a platoon of police officers are regularly stationed, shortly before the crackdown began.

The incidents were reminiscent of the Swan Ah Shin (aka “Masters of Force”), the plainclothes, pro-government militia which assisted in the former military junta’s brutal crackdown on monks during the 2007 Saffron Revolution and took a leading role in the Depayin Massacre in 2003.

According to Article 128 of the Burmese Code of Criminal Procedure, if an unlawful assembly refuses to disperse, magistrates and police station chiefs have the authority to raise a male civilian force in order to break up the gathering and assist with arrests.

The article was enacted in 1898 as part of the imposition of British common law as a means to deter any public assembly containing more than five people. It has remained on the books since.

“They are just vigilantes who want to keep law and order,” Myint Htwe, Rangoon Division’s Eastern District police chief, told the media on Thursday, when asked about the group who helped disperse the garment workers’ protest on Wednesday.

San Yamin Aung, Zin No No Zaw, Wei Yan Aung and Kyaw Phyo Tha contributed to this report.

5 Responses to Plainclothes Vigilantes Make a Comeback in Rangoon

  1. They are just domesticated animals trained by military thugs headed by Thein Sein to defend the dictatorship.

  2. The coming back of the agents provocateurs ( being used by the quasi-military government to quell the protesting students and workers) portrays that the government steps are backsliding. These provocateurs are formed with mostly thugs and criminals and they had played a major role in killing people and burning houses and mosques during Mandalay and Meiktilla religious riots. They were also used in the assassination attempt of Democracy icon Aung San Su Kyi by Union Solidarity and Development Party. The government has claimed its reformation and reconciliation have been achieved success to a certain extent. However, the civil war and the daily protests stemmed from the general issues that have arisen due to mismanagement, misused of power and gross violations of human rights democracy have not receded. It is time to eradicate such kind of government that damage the good image of the global community that respects human rights and humanity.

  3. Remember 1988? Long before August, military agents in mufti were posted in every public places, rail stations, bus terminals, launch terminals, ferries, everywhere and anti-government and anti-establishment campaign materials like leaflets were distributed, and the wall writings also went viral. People to vent their pentup emotions started shouting and openly raise their voices in demonstrations and collisions. The military agents kept records in photographs and videos of those demonstrations. the story that followed we all know. We know how people were ruthlessly murdered in thousands, imprisoned, made disabled by torture, including a Japanese journalist. We know how the witchhunt was carried out. Now these plainclothes vigilantes are none other than the bastards of those autocrats who again and again terrorized the country only to stop democracy from taking shape and a dignified Burma emerge from the ashes. Like the people of Burma the world at large also need to know about this so that timely action could be taken, not like 1988, but through a coordinated effort, in necessary, international.

  4. Cannot afford to make the same mistakes again. Cannot afford to be sitting ducks.

  5. Plainclothes Vigilantes Make a Comeback in Rangoon: aka big brothers pimp. What the police cannot do illegally is done for them by these brainless wonders. They wear arm bands which say duty; a euphemistic word for lets kyat, and they will be done. We are heading back to General Than Shwe’s era.

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