Two policemen who handcuffed and beat a young student during a festival in Pegu division were reportedly set upon by a crowd of some 200 stick-wielding bystanders.
The incident occurred soon after midnight in Tharawaddy’s Lapadan township as revellers celebrated the annual Moegaung Pagoda Festival. The policemen had been tasked with maintaining security, but eye-witnesses claim they were drinking on the job.
“The policemen beat up this young student who was in handcuffs until he started bleeding from his forehead,” said Aung Myint, a resident of nearby Hmawaye village. “One of them put a torchlight against his neck and held him while the other punched him.”
He said that bystanders began chasing the two “with sticks, bricks and knives” but they managed to escape. Later they were taken by the head of their own police station, but whether any action will be taken is unclear.
The victim, 22-year-old Thar Byaw, also from Hmawaye village, meanwhile went into shock and was sent to Lapadan hospital. He has reportedly been warned against filing a complaint to police, given that it was police who were behind the incident.
Impunity for police and government officials in Burma is common. The Asian Legal Centre last year said in a report that “Practically every step in an ordinary criminal case can be accompanied by payments of one kind or another”, while levels of corruption were also “profound”.
In January however courts gave an unexpected guilty verdict against five police commanders accused of corruption, prompting their dismissal.
Poor salaries among public service workers has led to rampant, almost institutionalised, corruption in Burma. The meagre wages given to lower-ranking government officials, military and police often means they cannot survive without backhanders or some sort of side business, which is technically illegal but widely tolerated.
The international watchdog Transparency International awarded Burma the penultimate spot on its recent Corruption Perceptions Index, shared with Afghanistan.