Arrested for leaving home without a smartphone: Soldiers levy ludicrous charges in Ayeyarwady

Arrested for leaving home without a smartphone: Soldiers levy ludicrous charges in Ayeyarwady

Tensions are running high in Ayeyarwady’s capital. After a string of assassinations, junta authorities recently put Pathein under martial law, imposing a curfew and tightening security checks for those moving around the city. 

In the midst of this, residents of Ayeyarwaddy Region are reporting being fined—or abducted—on grounds that reach across the spectrum of possibility. 

Since the lockdown, soldiers—increasingly paranoiac in their search for those sympathetic to the region’s PDF—have begun fining residents on increasingly asinine charges. DVB has seen reports of citizens being fined for having dark skin or scars, walking the opposite direction on a one-way street, and even for not wearing shoes. 

Residents from Mawlamyine Island, Bogale, Maubin, and Pathein told DVB that, amongst implausible charges, civilians had been fined K500 for wearing face masks in public, while others had been fined up to K5,000 for carrying no phone—or, indeed, for being in possession of a keyboard phone lacking internet capabilities.

“Because people are being censored, those who do not want to be harassed by the military are increasingly using keyboard phones,” a source told DVB, adding that, in Pathein, soldiers had been enforcing such fines as early as late October. “Locals say that since then, junta soldiers have also fined those using keyboard phones.”

Random spot checks of soldiers thumbing through smartphones are a common sight in post-coup Burma. To circumvent the military’s gaze, citizens have taken to carrying burner phones, more often than not fitted with fake social media accounts; necessary when having a NUG photo frame across your profile picture is enough to send you to jail.

Never to be outfoxed, the military has simply begun arresting in lieu of evidence, hoping that a confession will be gained after the event. DVB has received reports of arrests for those accused of “walking in cordoned off zones without access to a Facebook account”, as well as those merely suspected of communicating with NUG and PDF supporters. However, as the military no longer needs to make a case before taking people into custody, it is difficult to know with certainty on what basis its arrests are made. 

“Locals were arrested at the scene and taken to a military interrogation center where they were tortured and beaten until [the military] found out what they wanted to know,” the source said. “Locals say they have been forced to jump like frogs and do squats, even if the information they have provided is correct. They have been detained without charge by military informants.”