Myanmar Police Free Pop Singer After Mistaken Arrest on Drug Charges

By San Yamin Aung 10 October 2019

YANGON—Myanmar Police released famous young singer Phyo Pyae Sone and two songwriters on Wednesday afternoon after detaining them for two days on what appear to be false drug charges.

Phyo Pyae Sone and songwriters Nyein Cham Ko and Rodney Sann Lwin were arrested on Monday at a coffee shop in Myanmar Plaza shopping mall in Yangon. The police said they arrested the three following a tip that they were in possession of illegal drugs.

The police opened cases against them under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law Section 19 (a) and Section 21 for possessing illegal drugs. The charges carry a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. The trio were to remain in custody until Oct. 21 while their case was processed.

But the surprise arrest at the coffee shop was recorded by a customer and the video went viral online. The video shows plainclothes police officers approaching the two songwriters, searching them and handcuffing them. Nyein Cham Ko was hit in the face. Phyo Pyae Sone arrived soon after and was arrested as well.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) both released statements on their Facebook pages on Monday following the arrest, along with a photo showing the alleged drugs. The statement said police had opened cases against the three after seizing what they claimed were 10 ketamine tablets worth 12,000 kyats (US$7.85) from the three.

The posts caused controversy on social media as friends and fans of Phyo Pyae Sone angrily pointed out that the tablets that police claimed were ketamine, which is taken recreationally for its high, were actually Playmore candies, a popular candy brand from Thailand.

Amid mounting criticisms, the posts from the CCDAC were taken down within a few hours.

On Wednesday evening, Bahan Township Police chief Thein Win told the media that
the three were released after being found not guilty.

The police chief said they received a report from the Chemical Examiners’ Office stating that the pills were not drugs.

Many Myanmar social media users questioned the competence of the police. Users asked how the three who were arrested will be compensated for their wrongful detention and asked what will happen if a similar case occurs again.

“It is no longer safe to have candy or medical pills in your bag. You can be arrested and wrongly charged anytime,” one source wrote.

Lawyer U Maung Maung Soe, a leading member of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network, said the singer and his friends can ask police to conduct an internal investigation into the mistaken arrest and excessive use of force during the arrest, as the three were not running or attempting to defend themselves.

He also added that the police need to take action against the person who made the false report of drug possession.

Soon after the three were released, Phyo Pyae Sone wrote on his Facebook page that he would like to thank everyone who trusted in him and his friends.

He wrote that he planned to hold a press conference on Thursday morning but it was later postponed so that the two songwriters could attend as well.

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