In a rare admission, the government has confirmed that security personnel were involved in abusing and beating Muslim villagers during an operation in northern Rakhine State after a video clip of the incident was circulated widely on social media. According to the State Counsellor’s Office, immediate action will be taken against those involved in the abuse, and four police officers have already been detained.
The video clip, posted on Facebook on December 31 by self-described Rohingya activist and blogger “Ro Nay San Lwin”, shows police hitting, kicking and stomping on a man at the end of a line of villagers seated on the ground in Kotankauk Village, Maungdaw township. According to a January 1 statement from the State Counsellor’s Office, the video depicts a security operation that took place on November 5.
During the 1:15 minute clip, security forces take turns railing on a man who responds to the blows only by recoiling in a fetal position. The video was filmed as a selfie by a uniformed officer who looks on while smoking.
In response to the video, which was picked up by several media outlets, shared tens of thousands of times and garnered criticism from human rights groups, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Myanmar Police Force launched an investigation, according to the State Counsellor’s Office. The statement added that the Kotankauk village operation was led by Police Major Ye Tun Naing from the Number 2 Border Guard Police Force and Police Second Lieutenant Tay Zar Lin from the Number 36 security force.
According to the investigation, Police Officer Pyae Phyo Thwin was identified as one of the police involved in abuse shown in the video, while Police Officer Zaw Myo Htike was named as the one filming the incident. The four will face punishment under the Police Disciplinary Law, according the government’s statement.
“The investigation is still going on in order to identify more police who were involved in beating of the villagers during that operation. For now, the four police officers [so far identified] will face action for violating the police force rules,” said Police Major Myo Htike from the Kotankauk Village Police Force and who was not involved in the incident depicted in the video clip.
Security forces have poured into northern Rakhine State since a series of lethal attacks on border guard posts began on October 5. The Tatmadaw has been sweeping the area for suspected Muslim “insurgents”, and has severely restricted access while conducting the clearance campaigns. Tens of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya villagers have fled, with as many as 50,000 crossing the border into neighbouring Bangladesh bringing with them accounts of abuses at the hands of security personnel. The government and the Tatmadaw have both repeatedly denied the allegations, and the state counsellor has maintained that operations are being carried out in accordance with the “rule of law”.
While several other videos have previously surfaced on social media purporting to show abuses carried out by security personnel, the video from Kotankauk village is the first confirmed by the government along with plans to take punitive action.
U Zaw Htay, Deputy Director General of the President’s Office, said that authorities have already been instructed to abide by the law while undertaking their operation in Rakhine State.
“We will investigate to ensure that similar cases have not happened in other places,” he said regarding the video.
U Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, said yesterday that the government must ensure the safety of innocent people in ethnic minority areas.
“The most import thing is to prevent such things from happening again,” he said.