Myanmar Junta Extorting Money From Anti-Coup Detainees
By The Irrawaddy 8 July 2021
Junta soldiers and police are extorting money from the families of people detained on suspicion of being involved in anti-coup activities, according to sources close to the military regime.
When no evidence is found to charge those detained on suspicion of being involved in anti-regime activities, authorities put them on a ‘to-be-released list’.
Military personnel and police who have access to those lists then contact the relatives of the political detainees via local police, military security affairs officers and military-appointed ward administrators, and deceive them into paying money for their release.
“They ask for money from the relatives in return for the release of the detainees. In fact, those detainees would be released anyway even if no money is paid. But the families don’t know that and they pay the cash,” said a source.
Such cases of extortion have been reported in Naypyitaw, Yangon and Mandalay, with the price being demanded ranging from 500,000 kyats to three million kyats [US$304-US$1,829].
One recent case of a young woman detainee from Yangon’s South Okkalapa Township saw her family members handing over 700,000 kyats [US$427] without knowing that she would not be charged, said another source.
“In the case of the woman from South Okkalapa who was released on June 23, [junta soldiers] asked for three million kyats for her release via her local ward administrator. As her family could not afford it, they bargained to pay a lower price. The final price was 700,000 kyats,” he said.
The young woman was arrested by junta forces along with her boyfriend. Authorities decided to release her as no evidence was found against her, but charged her boyfriend as he had made donations to the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, a body representing the elected lawmakers from the 2020 general election.
In another case, regime forces arrested two Yangon men who helped collect food supplies to be sent to displaced people in Chin State’s Mindat, following clashes there between civilian resistance fighters and junta troops.
Authorities decided initially to release one of the men, but later charged and imprisoned him as well. “[Junta soldiers] asked for two million kyats from his family members after they learned that he would not be charged. But the authorities later decided to charge him. So his family lost two million kyats and he was also jailed,” said another source.
When a National League for Democracy party member was arrested in Yangon’s Insein Township, her two daughters were also detained along with her. Both the daughters reportedly had to pay for their release.
After some 30 political prisoners were released around the end of June in Naypyitaw, reports emerged that some were re-arrested immediately and that police then asked for money from their families in return for their release. The Irrawaddy was not able to verify those reports.
There have also been reports that the regime has released artists charged with incitement under section 505(a) of the Penal Code in return for cash. A source close to the military regime said artist Yone Lay, who is widely alleged to be a staunch supporter of the junta, arranged for the release of artists detained for anti-coup activities.
“Members of the art community detained in Yangon can ask for help from Yone Lay. Yone Lay has contacts in the Yangon Command [of Myanmar’s military]. Those who sought his help have been released,” said the source.
“In most cases they [junta forces] are taking advantage of their knowledge about who will be released. If you are arrested for a political charge, you can hire a lawyer. And you don’t have to spend money. You will be released if you are found not guilty or sometimes you won’t be charged,” he said.
Over 6,500 people have been detained and arrest warrants issued for some 2,000 people since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Another 894 people have been killed in junta crackdowns and in military custody.
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