‘We’ll Arrest Your Family if You Don’t Confess’… Myanmar Migrants ‘Scapegoated’ by Thai Police

A familiar story played out for Myanmar migrants in Thailand when a 17-year-old girl’s body showed up in the border town of Ranong in late 2015.

The Thai police, unable to find the real culprit, began looking for a scapegoat from among the migrant worker population in town, advocates say.

Ranong, which borders the southern Myanmar town of Kawthaung, is home to both documented and undocumented migrant workers, many of whom toil in the seafood industry.

A month after the murder police detained 15-year-old Moe Zin Aung. “They asked, ‘Why did you kill the girl?’” he said. “When I said, ‘Which girl? I don’t know,’ they beat me. Then they put a sack over my head and took me somewhere.”

He was later locked in a dark room with his hands cuffed behind his back while Thai police beat him and demanded he admit to the crime, he said.

“I confessed to the crime after they said: ‘We will arrest your family if you don’t confess,’” he added.

The officers asked him for the names of people he worked with, so he told them about three of his colleagues, who were also friends. “I found out the next day that they got arrested too,” he said.

One of the friends, Kyaw Soe Win, was at sea gathering fishing nets when police arrived by boat to arrest him. They ordered him onto the boat, he said, and then told him: “If you don’t tell the truth, we will shoot you now and drop you in the sea.”

Kyaw Soe Win arrived in Thailand when he was very young, and attended school there until sixth grade, before dropping out to work on fishing boats to help his mother with money.

Just like Moe Zin Aung, Kyaw Soe Win says police locked him in a dark room and interrogated him. Kyaw Soe Win was 14 at the time, but was interrogated and beaten constantly for two days and two nights, he said.

“They pulled my hair and punched my neck. They asked me questions all through the night until morning. I didn’t confess because I didn’t commit the crime,” he said.

But eventually officers managed to break him the same way they had broken Moe Zin Aung.

“They said they would capture my parents and murder them if I didn’t confess…. I only have my mother. I didn’t want them to hurt my parents, so I confessed at last,” he told Myanmar Now.

Another of the friends, Sein Gadone, who is now 24, tells a similar story: “They blindfolded me and ordered dogs to bite me. That went on for about 15 minutes. It was hell. But it hurt the most when they said they would arrest my father, mother and my little sister if I didn’t confess. I couldn’t sacrifice them just to free myself.”

After the four friends had confessed, they were made to re-enact the killing at the crime scene. But they refused to plead guilty when they appeared in court.

Instead the defense team submitted evidence showing the four were all at work at the time of the killing, said Ratsada Manooratasada of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, an advocacy group.

“The main thing was the boys’ employer testified at the court with CCTV evidence that the boys were working at his site at the time of the murder,” he said.

The court convicted them in spite of their alibis, sentencing them to between two and eight years in prison in April last year.

The four men were acquitted in June after a court found the police’s evidence against them unreliable (Photo by Htoo Chit)

Moe Zin Aung and Kyaw Soe Win were sent to juvenile detention centres. They were released when they turned 18, as per Thai law, after three years in prison.

Sein Gadone got eight years, while the fourth friend, Wai Lin, got six. They spent three years and nine months locked up before being acquitted and released in June.

A district appeals court found that the police’s evidence was unreliable because it conflicted with the video footage showing the defendants at work, said Ratsada.

Moe Zin Aung’s mother has filed a lawsuit against the Thai police for abusing their authority.

Sein Gadone has returned to Myanmar. He first went to Thailand because he thought it would give him an opportunity to get ahead and support his family. Now there is nothing that could convince him to return. “I will never go back to Thailand,” he said.

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