Homosexuals Allege Sexual Abuse by Police in Mandalay

By Zarni Mann 10 July 2013

Allegations of sexual abuse by police officers have surfaced following a weekend crackdown by law enforcers in an area of Mandalay frequented by homosexuals and transvestites.

Twelve people were detained, three of whom were charged with disturbing the public, in the police action on Saturday night. The detainees have since complained that they were abused by officers at the police station, where they were held for several hours without any explanation for why they were being detained.

“We were pushed roughly and handcuffed tightly,” said Myat Noe, one of those detained. “When we arrived at the divisional police office, the police forcibly pulled off our clothes, kicked us and beat us. Our breasts were squeezed, scratched and beaten with police batons. And they forced us to do frog jumps, without clothes, and shout that we are not women but men. I’ve never experienced terror like this.”

Myat Noe, who is a member of a famous gay dance troupe widely known as Moe Gyo Hngat Ngae, had traveled from Rangoon to Kyauk Hse, a city near Mandalay, to perform in a show.

“When we did as they said, we were beaten again because our voices sound feminine. They slapped our faces and shouted out, ‘Shout like a man! Sound like a man!’ Myat Noe said.

Police allegedly used sexual slurs, insulted the detainees and forced them to act as though they were walking a catwalk.

“The police said that it [the reason for the arrests] is because we were in possession of condoms. We keep them to prevent diseases, but what should we do if we get arrested for this?” said Yee Lay Po.

“When we were released, the policemen said, ‘We’ve done nothing to you, haven’t even touched you.’”

The detainees said they were released on bail after about four hours behind bars, and were forced to sign an agreement stating that they would not dress like women and would not go near the Sedona Hotel area, where many homosexuals and other transgender sex workers are known to gather.

“For some who couldn’t find a person to put up bail, they had to remain in police [custody] for some more hours, where they were forced to stand the whole time while some had to polish the shoes of the police and clean the desks. I’m still frightened by this terrible experience,” Yee Lay Po said.

“If possible, we want them to suffer the same as we’ve suffered,” said Chan Chan, a gay rights activist who was also detained. “Now we are afraid if we see a policeman. We are angry as well.”

Chan Chan said the gay community in Mandalay was living in fear of another crackdown.

“They are gay or lesbian, but they are human too. They have the right to go out or hang out freely, but now they are afraid to go out,” he said.

According to the police, Saturday’s incident was in response to public complaints.

“We heard that the gays were disturbing the public who came to relax in the area, so we detained them for a while and warned them not to go there again,” said Soe Nyein, a Mandalay Division police officer.

“We are not going to charge them,” he added. “Since they are men, we had to hold them in the men’s cell. Since they wore padded undergarments, we had to ask them to remove them before they went into the cell. Prohibiting unnecessary things from being brought inside the cell is our duty.”

The area near Mandalay’s Sedona Hotel is a popular spot known for its scenic views of the city’s ancient moat and Mandalay Hill.

Right activists said the alleged abuse by police should be punished.

“If they want to control crime, they must arrest only those who commit crimes,” said Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a group that educates on human rights as well as gay and lesbian rights. “But in this case, the victims had nothing to do with crime or disturbing the public. They have a right to hang out there. If we do not take action against those policemen, the police will be encouraged to continue such unlawful action in the future.

“We found many cases like this, in which gays were abused by police based on the mindset that you can abuse or make jokes out of the gay community,” he continued. “This is such an inhumane act. Since the police are abusing like this but not providing protection, this threatens the rule of law and defames the image of the country.”