Police Chief Denies Using Thugs to Break Up Anti-war Protest

By Htet Naing Zaw 16 May 2018

NAYPYITAW — The chief of the Myanmar Police Force has denied using civilian thugs to arrest anti-war demonstrators in Yangon’s Tamwe Township on Saturday.

In response to The Irrawaddy’s question about the arrest of protesters, Police Major-General Aung Win Oo said, “I’d say we didn’t use civilians in that case.”

Speaking at a press conference on Monday to report on the police force’s activities over the past year, he said officers controlled the protest in line with the law.

Around 200 people joined Saturday’s protest in Yangon calling for an end to fighting between the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and ethnic armed groups. Eight people were detained and sued for violating the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, and released on bail the following day.

The police chief vowed to find out “who the persons in ordinary clothes were” and take legal action against them. He did not provide further details, however.

After police halted the demonstration, anti-war protesters were arrested by people wearing plain clothes, said Yangon-based journalist Ko Tha Lun, who was at the scene.

“Those in ordinary clothes were clearly supporters of Ma Ba Tha [the Association for Protection of Race and Religion] and the Tatmadaw. You can identify them if you watch the video clips [of previous protests in support of Ma Ba Tha and the Tatmadaw],” said Ko Tha Lun, who is also a member of the Press Freedom Committee in Yangon. The Tatmadaw refers to Myanmar’s military.

“They also jostled the reporters. And the police didn’t protect us. Therefore, we’ve filed a complaint with the Myanmar National Human Rights Council and the Press Council,” he said.

The police chief said action was taken against anti-war protesters in several townships because the demonstrators did not seek prior approval from the appropriate police stations.

He cited Section 128 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that if participants in an unlawful assembly do not obey a police order to disperse, police can use force to disperse them, and may use the assistance of any unarmed male person who is not a police officer or soldier.

“But we didn’t use any civilian force in this case,” Maj-Gen Aung Win Oo said.

On Monday, 391 civil society organizations issued a joint statement condemning the beating of anti-war protesters by the police and those in civilian clothing. The statement calls on the government to identify and take action against those who illegally cracked down on the protesters. It also demands the unconditional, immediate release of activists across the country who have been detained for anti-war activities.

Protests against the fighting in Kachin State have escalated since a protest camp was set up in the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, a few weeks ago. Though the camp has since been broken up, protests have spread to Yangon, Mandalay, Bago and Pyay.

So far this month, 42 people have been detained and sued in 13 cases related to anti-war protests (seven cases in Yangon Region, three in Mandalay Region, two in Kachin State and one in Bago Region), The Voice, a civil society group lobbying for freedom of expression, said on Monday.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.