Domestic worker faces three years in prison after police find fake banknotes in her pay packet

She left Myanmar to take on the thankless work of being a domestic servant in Singapore, all to make a better life for her and her family.

But shortly after Naw Thaw Thwae Htoo returned home and began spending her hard-earned cash, the police took it away, along with her freedom.

The 25-year-old was shopping in Bago in December when a shop employee noticed something was wrong with the 10,000 kyat notes she was using and called the police.

After officers detained her, they discovered she was in possession of just over 1.5 million kyats, or roughly $1,000, worth of fake banknotes.

They charged her under anti-counterfeit laws that could have landed her in prison for up to 23 years.

Naw Thaw Thwae Htoo had no idea she was importing fake currency, her supporters have said. Her employer gave her the cash in Singapore after buying it a currency exchange.

The Bago regional high court on December 20th dismissed the most severe charge against her; that of importing fake currency.

But she still faces up to three years in prison under a separate section of the law that forbids knowingly using counterfeit money.

She didn’t make bail in that case until early last month, almost four weeks after she was first arrested.

Her mother, Daw Thi Thi Khaing, said at the time that her release on bail was bitter sweet.

“I can’t even speak properly as I am so happy. I am grateful to everyone because my daughter is coming home,” she said. “But they said she needs to face trial for the remaining charges.”

Naw Thaw Thwae Htoo is due at her seventh hearing today, Thi Thi Khaing said.

Her case has prompted concern that Myanmar’s laws against counterfeit currency risk causing miscarriages of justice, sweeping up people who were unaware their notes were fake.

U Yu Lwin Aung, a member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, wrote to the home affairs and labour ministries shortly before her release on bail to urge that the charge against her be reconsidered.

He also said that as she did not attain the money illegally and it was exchanged by her employer in Singapore, she should be compensated for the amount that police confiscated.  

Daw Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, an MP for Daik-U township, said her colleagues in parliament were working with activists to try to retrieve Naw Thaw Thwae Htoo’s money.

“The Central Bank said it doesn’t concern with them,” she said. The best option, she said, might be to pursue compensation via labour rights laws. “I do not know how things will turn out,”

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