The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says it is documenting incidents of harassment against gay men and transgender people in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and is concerned about what that says about democratization in the former one party state.
‘On 7 July 2013 a group of around 20 un-uniformed men – some police, others local administrators or other unidentified persons – descended on the area outside the Sedona Hotel in Mandalay and assaulted a group of gay and transgendered people there, pushing, hitting, handcuffing them and pulling off their garments in public before loading them on to a number of vehicles,’ the AHRC said in a statement.
‘Once in custody, police continued to abuse the group of 11 detainees, hitting and kicking them constantly, stripping them naked in the public areas of the Mandalay Regional Police headquarters, photographing them, forcing them to hop like frogs, forcing them to clean shoes and tables, to walk up and down as if on a catwalk, [while] uttering obscenities at them, and otherwise physically and psychologically demeaning them.
‘One of those detained said that a police officer interrogated her at length about her sexual activities and preferences, where she usually hangs out, and later tried to lure her to come back with him after leaving the police station.’
All 11 detainees were released without charge but the AHRC say that in other instances police have been using section 35(c) of the Myanmar 1945 Police Act, section 35(c) to shake down LGBTs.
Section 35 (c) stipulates that, ‘Any person found between sunset and sunrise having his face covered or otherwise disguised, who is unable to give a satisfactory account himself … may be taken into custody by any police-officer without a warrant, and shall be punishable on conviction with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months.’
The AHRC say two detainees had to pay bribes of around 400,000 Kyat (about $420 USD) to be released from a case under this section lodged by the police in the Aungmyay-Thazan Township Court.
The detainees claim they were told that for a lesser amount of money they could be held for just one week instead of the full three-month period.
There is also confusion over the current legal status of homosexuality in Myanmar with ILGA stating the country’s Section 377 law remains in place while the AHRC maintain that homosexuality is not a crime in the country.
The AHRC is also concerned that detainees are being made to sign pledges that they will not frequent particular public places or dress in women’s clothes.
‘Not only are such assertions patently against the human rights of the victims of these police attacks, but they are also patently false: no law exists in Burma to prohibit … the congregating of homosexual people in public places, which is why police who pursue them are forced to use obscurely worded sections of antiquated, colonial-era laws under which they effectively act as the arbiters of public morality, distinguishing people who can give “satisfactory accounts” of themselves from those who cannot,’ the AHRC says.
‘That the police in Burma have the authority to make such ambiguous determinations should be a cause for concern for anyone interested to see the country continue on its democratizing path. If the police, who have learned their techniques under military government, have the authority to determine what does or does not constitute a public disturbance then the rights of minorities are going to continue to suffer abuse—both because minorities who assemble in ways that the police do not like, as in Mandalay, can be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention and torture; and, because other gatherings that in fact constitute real, violent threats to public safety, like the mobs formed to attack Muslim shops and houses around the country in 2012 and 2013, are somehow not considered to be in violation of any law.
‘The manner in which the police have cracked down on the transgendered community in Burma during recent weeks closely resembles practices of old against other minorities … The forcing of detainees to sign pledges before release too is a longstanding practice used in political cases, one that has no basis in law. And the notion that anyone can be made to stop being gay, any more than they can be made to stop being political, through the use of such techniques is as absurd as it is unlawful.’
‘Similarly, the requirement of payments to get out of cases lodged against accused persons is routine practice in all types of criminal cases.In this sense, the protections that minority groups deserve are the same protections that everyone in the country deserves, the abuses they suffer, also the abuses suffered by the general community.’
The AHRC says it strongly supports efforts by gay and transgender people detained by Burmese police to lodge complaints with authorities including with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and there are plans for a civil suit against police as well.
The AHRC also called on the Myanmar Government to sign the United Nations Convention against Torture and pass national laws outlawing torture as well.
They also urged the government to amend section 30 (c) of the Police Act, section and the equivalent section in the Rangoon Police Act so that police do not have ambiguous and draconian authority with which to detain, abuse and extract money from anyone who just happens to be out after dark.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is an independent, non-governmental body which seeks to promote greater awareness and realization of human rights in the Asian region, and to mobilize Asian and international public opinion to obtain relief and redress for the victims of human rights violations.