Up to a thousand protestors took to the streets of Taunggup in Arakan State on Wednesday, demanding the closure of all bars and liquor stores in the town which, they say, are contributing to a surge in crime.
The marchers claim that the number of the bars and liquor stores in the town is constantly increasing, fuelling alcohol consumption among local youths; playing a role in crimes such as rape and murder; and causing traffic accidents.
Thein Lwin, the organiser of the protest on 10 August, said, “There has been an escalation in the illicit dealing and consumption of alcohol. These factors are the source of undesirable health, social, educational and economic issues. The government must put a stop to this.”
He added: “Drunken youths have committed numerous acts of theft, rape and murder. That’s why we are demanding that liquor stores be closed down.”
Ei Mi San, a Taunggup woman who joined the protest, said: “Moral decay is setting in among our young people to the point we are now afraid to go out at night. The bars and beer gardens are crowded with teenagers as well as older men, and every night they harass passing women, such as female students on their way to afterschool tuition.”
She continued: “It is a growing concern. The authorities are rarely very helpful when there are alcohol-related problems, and so we would like to know how the government plans to deal with this. The situation is Taunggup is getting worse, and our town’s image is becoming poorer and poorer every day.”
According to the protestors, around 200 venues are selling alcohol illegally in the town, while only 60 liquor stores have official licenses.
Taunggup was propelled into the world headlines in 2012 for an infamous incident that was one of the main precursors to the communal violence that erupted in Arakan State that year. In early June 2012, hundreds of people in Taunggup dragged ten individuals off a bus filled with Muslim pilgrims and beat them to death. The bus was then set ablaze as members of the mob urinated on the victims. In the inter-religious violence that followed, at least 100 people were killed, and 140,000 left homeless.