Myanmar Junta Extorting Cash From Wealthy Parents of Detained Protesters

By The Irrawaddy 15 May 2021

Security officials of the Myanmar military regime are soliciting bribes from the parents of some of the nearly 700 detained children from wealthy families who have been arrested for anti-regime activism, after giving them false hope of their children’s release.

Some families have been asked for 5,000,000 kyats (about US$3,200) or more by officials from the security forces in exchange for promises—which later turn out to be false—to free their children, most of whom are teenagers, according to a parent in Yangon.

However, they haven’t been released. The bribe-taking officials merely check whether the children are OK behind bars and pass the information back to the worried parents, or take them food on the parents’ behalf.

The young people took part in anti-coup protests and some have provided strong support, including financial or other aid, to striking civil servants participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a campaign in which many government workers are refusing to work for the regime. The impact of the CDM has been so strong that the junta is still struggling to keep the country running properly, more than three months after the coup.

The rich children were arrested during the regime’s crackdowns on street protests and night raids and have been detained at Yangon’s Insein Prison since the second week of April, according to an immediate family member of one of the detainees. Among those detained are some celebrities like Paing Takhon, who is also popular in Thailand and has appeared in commercial endorsements and soap operas there.

As of Friday, 3,971 people nationwide are in detention in relation to anti-coup activities, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), which has been tracking arrests by regime forces and the death toll from the junta’s crackdowns.

Following the arrests, the parents, some of whom are well known elites in Yangon society, approached some officials to get their children released. They were likely motivated by reports from some provincial towns that arrested protesters had been released after their parents agreed to pay an amount demanded by local security officials.

According to sources close to security officials, the regime and military intelligence suspect that many well-off businessmen in Yangon and elsewhere have provided funds to the CDM movement, and some children of wealthy families have been found to be actively involved in the campaign. They said it was impossible that the children would be released despite their parents’ back-channel approach with loads of cash, because the regime officials want to punish the parents for their support for the movement. Any bribes paid by the parents were accepted under false pretenses, they said.

“This is kidnapping. They are not going to be released,” one of the sources said.