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July - 2012

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COMMENTARY: Extortion Everywhere

Among the various types of human rights violations that have frequently taken place in Shan State over the years up to the present, extortion has been one of the most rampant and widespread of all.

Although the main perpetrators have been members of the Burmese military, the police and the administrative departments, extortion has also been rampant in other departments related to civil and social services.

It can be found in all government departments, even in schools, hospitals, water supply, electricity supply, telephone distribution offices, the fire brigade and many others. It has been common to hear people complain that nothing can be done without money changing hands under the table.

People have hoped that all sorts of extortion, and all the other types of human rights violations, would at least reduce in gravity and frequency, if not be completely eliminated, after the nominally civilian government came to power.

However, that has not yet been the case. Even after more than a year under nominally civilian rule, extortion, especially of money, has been as rampant and widespread as before, with virtually no one ever getting punished for it.

Extortion has not reduced. Instead, in some quarters, it even seems to have increased, especially during the later part of 2011 and early months of 2012, as reported in this month’s newsletter issue.

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CONTENTS: Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue

(Note: This month’s newsletter issue contains mainly reports about extortion of money by various government departments that took place during the early months of 2012.)

Townships in which the incidents of human rights violations took place -- Kaeng-Tung, Ta-Khi-Laek, Murng-Nai, Ka-Law and Murng-Ton

ACRONYMS:

LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)

IB= Infantry Battalion

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SITUATION OF EXTORTION IN VARIOUS GOVERNMENT CIVIL AND SOCIAL SERVICES DEPARTMENTS IN SHAN STATE

Even though the nominally civilian government has been in power for more than a year, there has been little change in the behaviour of many officials at various government departments.

Many of them still behave as if they were still working under the military government and refuse to discard their long-standing practices, including extortion.

The following are some such instances:

EXTORTION ON ISSUANCE OF CITIZEN IDENTITY CARDS IN KAENG-TUNG

At least up to March 2012 when this report was received, authorities at the department responsible for issuing citizen identity cards (ID) in Kaeng-Tung township have still been extorting great amounts of money from people who had applied for their ID cards before issuing them.

Even after the nominally civilian government has come to power for a year, authorities at the citizen registration department in Kaeng-Tung were still extorting large amounts of money from the people applying for citizen ID cards as before.

Those who failed to pay bribes were not issued their ID cards although they had applied for them and paid the official costs and waited for several months. Most people who could not wait any longer eventually paid the bribes to get their ID cards.

Money was extorted not only from adults who had lost their ID cards and applied for new ones, but also from children who had come of age and had the right to be issued ID cards, making many parents who could not afford to pay the bribe money unable to get IDs for their children.

A father of one such child complained, “The official cost for an ID is nothing, it is less than 1,000 kyat. It is what you have to give under the table that is the problem. It has to be at least 200,000 kyat, and even more in some cases”.

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EXTORTION ON ISSUANCE OF CITIZEN IDENTITY CARD IN TA-KHI-LAEK

At least up to the beginning of 2012 when this report was received, authorities at the department responsible for issuing citizen identity cards (ID) in Ta-Khi-Laek township have still been extorting money in Thai baht from people applying for ID cards before issuing them.

Although the nominally civilian government which has come to power about a year ago had announced that people who had lost or had not yet acquired their citizen ID cards would be issued them free of charge, many people in Ta-Khi-Laek township still had to pay large amounts of money to get theirs.

People who went to apply for their ID cards were told by some concerned officials at the registration department that they would have to pay a certain amount of money if they wanted to get their ID cards in due time without delay.

The demanded amounts were generally between 3,000-4,000 up to 6,000-7,000 Thai baht, in accordance with the social and economic status of the applicants, and had to be only in Thai baht. Burmese money was not accepted.

Those who immediately paid the demanded amounts of money were issued their ID cards as soon as possible without asking virtually any questions. Those who did not want to wait could even have their new ID cards sent later to their house by the concerned officials.

For those who could not afford to pay the demanded amounts, it was quite a different story. They were told to come back next day or week repeatedly and still could not get their ID, until they eventually had no choice but to pay the demanded money.

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EXTORTION CONCERNING ELECTRICITY DEPARTMENT IN KAENG-TUNG

Up until at least early this year, 2012, officials at the electricity department in Kaeng-Tung township have been occasionally extorting money from Kaeng-Tung townspeople whenever there were opportunities to do so.

During several months of the dry season earlier this year, there were frequent electricity cuts in Kaeng-Tung town even during the nights. Often there were whole-night blackouts in many parts of the town.

The reason they said was because of less water so that the water-powered generators could not produce enough electricity for the whole town all night. However, those who did not get any light were still required to pay the regular monthly fees, 1,000 kyat per house.

Those who complained about having to pay the fees without having any light were told by the concerned officials to keep quiet or their electricity meter boxes would be confiscated. The said meter boxes were those that people had been forced to buy at the price of several hundred thousands kyat per set from the electricity department.

However, some houses that were said to have applied for a special line still received electricity more or less regularly. According to some house owners that received the said special line, apart from the 1,000 kyat regular meter fees, they had to pay the electricity department 30,000 kyat under the table to get one month’s light.

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EXTORTION BY ELECTRICITY DEPARTMENT IN KAENG TAWNG SUB-TOWNSHIP, MURNG-NAI TOWNSHIP

Up until at least April 2012, authorities at the electricity department in Kaeng Tawng sub-township in Murng-Nai township had regularly extorted money from the people by demanding many times more than the actual costs of the electric power they used.

Many years after the completion of the hydropower electricity plant at Taad Long waterfall in Kaeng Tawng area in Murng-Nai township, local people in the area only started to receive electricity since 3-4 years ago.

That was after most of the electric power had been regularly provided to an iron mill in Ho-Pong township, and many military establishments in several townships, including Murng-Nai, Nam-Zarng, Larng-Khur, Loi-Lem and Ho-Pong, etc..

Even though it started 3-4 years ago, the electric power was distributed to just one or 2 town quarters each year, so that only by the beginning of 2012 was the whole area of Kaeng Tawng sub-township able to receive electricity.

However, since the beginning up to the time this report was received in April 2012, people who received the electric power were forced by the authorities at the electricity department to pay many times more than the actual costs of the power they used.

It had been officially announced that apart from the regular meter box fee of 1,000 kyat per month, each unit of power used would cost 25 kyat. However, people were forced to pay from 6,000 kyat to 8,000 kyat per month even though the power they used was not more than 50 to 80 units.

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EXTORTION BY LAND SURVEY DEPARTMENT IN KAENG TAWNG SUB-TOWNSHIP, MURNG-NAI TOWNSHIP

During the last 2-3 months, from March up to May, 2012, when this report was received, large amounts of money were extorted from the local people by officials from the land survey department in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, Murng-Nai township.

Since all the land areas on which people had their houses and their farms and fields in Kaeng Tawng area were required to be measured and registered by the military authorities some time ago, the land survey department had been doing the job in one designated area after another.

During the period mentioned above, they came to Kung Maak Keng and Paang Khaw villages and measured the land areas of the compounds of villagers’ houses. After measuring each house, they forced the house owner to pay a large amount of money for their labour.

Each house, no matter how large or small its compound was, had to pay not less than 300,000 kyat, which the villagers thought was many times more than what a reasonable amount should be, but no one dared to complain about it.

The villagers believed that the land survey department did it with the backing of the military authorities of LIB576 and the money would duly be given to or at least shared with them, and they dared not complain for fear of further and more severe abuses.

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EXTORTION BY AUTHORITIES IN CHARGE OF ANTI-HUMAN-TRAFFICKING, AT AIRPORTS AND CHECKPOINTS IN KA-LAW AND TA-KHI-LAEK

In April 2012, money was extorted from 3 women, who were travelling by air from Hai Ho to Ta-Khi-Laek, by the authorities at both Hai Ho airport in Ka-Law township and Ta-Khi-Laek airport in Ta-Khi-Laek township.

Using one of the regulations - banning women under 25 from travelling to the border to prevent human trafficking - as a pretext, the authorities in charge of anti-human-trafficking often extorted money from women travellers before they let them continue their journey.

One of the said 3 women, Naang Zing U, aged 22, was travelling with her husband, Zaai La Win, aged 25, to visit their relatives in Ta-Khi-Laek. But the authorities said they were not genuine husband and wife and extorted money from Naang Zing U before they let her go with her husband.

The couple said that they had to pay the authorities 5,000 kyat at Hai Ho airport and 20,000 kyat at Ta-Khi-Laek airport to be able to visit their relatives in Ta-Khi-Laek town. It was learned by SHRF field workers from their relatives that they were really husband and wife.

The other 2 women who travelled by the same flight were Naang Yaen, aged 23 and Naang Lu, aged 25. At Hai Ho airport, Naang Yaen had to give the authorities 10,000 kyat for being underage and Naang Lu had to give 5,000 kyat for bringing Naang Yaen with her.

At Ta-Khi-Laek airport, the authorities did not believe that the 2 women had relatives in Ta-Khi-Laek town. They confiscated their identity cards (ID) and told them to send their relatives to retrieve them.

When the women and their relatives came back to the airport, the authorities gave them back their IDs, but not before 10,000 kyat of money was extorted from each of them. All of the victims were said to be from Mung-Nai township, including the couple mentioned above, and had been travelling together to visit their relatives.

According to many travellers who had come to visit Ta-Khi-Laek, such an incident was common over the last several years. Those who travelled by cars even had to pay more at some checkpoints to be able to come to Ta-Khi-Laek, usually 100,000 up to 150,000 kyat per person.

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EXTORTION BY MEMBERS OF TELEPHONE DEPARTMENT IN KAENG-TUNG

For several years up to at least early 2012, when this report was received, members of the government telephone department in Kaeng-Tung township have been extorting money from the townspeople whose telephone lines needed to be fixed.

When a house’s telephone line was out of order, the owner was required to ask the telephone department to fix it, and money was always extorted from the owner by the telephone line workers for fixing the line, usually 5,000 kyat each time.

If the money was not paid, the line would not be back in order even though it had been fixed. If the owner fixed the line by himself, he was still subject to pay a fine of up to 3,000 kyat. Virtually every house having a telephone had to face line problems every few months at one time or another.

There were more than 2,000 houses with telephone lines in the 5 quarters of Kaeng-Tung town. Among them, there were always about 100-200 lines needing to be fixed each month, creating opportunities for members of the telephone department to extort money.

According to some well informed local people, the concerned authorities at the telephone department deliberately made arrangements to secretly cut a certain number of phone lines in certain locations each month, so that they could generate more or less regular extra income for themselves and their cronies.

EXTORTION BY ROAD AND VEHICLE CONTROL DEPARTMENT IN KAENG-TUNG

Since late 2011 up to early 2012, civilian vehicles were forced to pay extra taxes, known as “wheel rolling tax” or “extra gate fees”, by the authorities manning checkpoints at the 4 main entrance gates of Kaeng-Tung town, Kaeng-Tung township.

Each motorcycle, whether incoming or outgoing, was required to pay 300 kyat as a “wheel tax” before they were allowed to pass through one of the main entrance gates. Those who for some reasons could not pay the tax were simply forced to turn back.

Vehicles that were going to other townships were required to pay higher gate fees, usually at the rates as follows:

1. Each motorcycle = 500 kyat

2. Each passenger car = 3,000 kyat

3. Each medium-size cargo truck = 5,000 kyat

4. Each large-size cargo truck = 10,000 kyat

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SITUATION OF EXTORTION BY POLICE AND MILITARY AT CHECKPOINTS IN SHAN STATE

Extortion by members of the police department and the Burmese military, which has been rampant and widespread over the years, has been continuing unabated up to the present. It has taken place virtually everywhere and almost all the time.

Even about a year after the nominally civilian government has been in power, the long practice of extortion by the military and the police has still been rampant and shown little sign that it was going to reduce, let alone stop, in the near future.

Among the various types and places of extortion, extorting money from the travellers at checkpoints along the roads have been one of the most rampant.

The following is one such instances:

EXTORTION AT CHECKPOINTS NEAR THAI-BORDER IN MURNG-TON

During March and April 2012, a lot of money was extorted from travellers by members of the Burmese military and the police force manning checkpoints along the roads near the Thai border in Pung Pa Khem sub-township in Murng-Ton township.

There are 2 main routes taken by most travellers between Pung Pa Khem town and the Thai border. Apart from the police checkpoint at Pung Pa Khem, there were 2 more military checkpoints on each of the routes.

Even though it was only a short distance between Pung Pa Khem and the Thai border, money was extorted from the travellers at least at 3 checkpoints. For instance, there were 2 military checkpoints along the route between BP1 and Pung Pa Khem where 300 baht of Thai money was extorted from each traveller at each checkpoint.

There were also 2 Burmese military checkpoints on the other route, between Doi Ang Khaang border point and Pung Pa Khem, where each traveller had to pay 300 baht at each checkpoint for passage to or from Thailand. This route passed through Ta Khawng village where police sometimes also extorted 300 baht from each traveller.

As for the police checkpoint in Pung Pa Khem town, more money was usually extorted depending on what and how many faults they could find with the travellers, sometimes up to several thousand baht. Even people from Thailand who came to a Buddhist religious ceremony in Pung Pa Khem were not spared.

The organizers had invited people from across the border, with permission from the concerned authorities on both sides, to the religious ceremony which was held sometime in April 2012, and about 700 people came.

Although the military checkpoints on the way let them pass through without asking for anything, the police checkpoint at the entrance of Pung Pa Khem only let them in after extorting 100 baht of money from each of them.

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