3 cops punished over abuse of Rohingya on video

Screen grab from a YouTube video showing a policeman kicking a Rohingya minority villager seated on the ground in the village of Kotankauk during a police area clearance operation on Nov 5, 2016.
Screen grab from a YouTube video showing a policeman kicking a Rohingya minority villager seated on the ground in the village of Kotankauk during a police area clearance operation on Nov 5, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON • Three police officers have been sentenced to two months' detention after a video showed them abusing Rohingya civilians, security sources said yesterday, saying those involved had "no intention" to cause harm.

The authorities detained several officers last month for beating Rohingya villagers during operations in the north of Rakhine state, where security forces are hunting down militants who are behind raids on border posts.

Nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled to camps in southern Bangladesh since the lockdown started four months ago. The lockdown has produced horrific stories of mass rape, murder, torture and arson.

A United Nations report released last Friday based on interviews with escapees said hundreds of people have likely been killed in a "calculated policy of terror" that may amount to ethnic cleansing.

Despite the mounting evidence, Myanmar's government has largely dismissed allegations of widespread abuses against the Muslim minority, whom most in the country consider to be a group of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The video of the beating, which appeared online last December, led to a rare exception where the authorities have taken action.

The footage showed police hitting a young boy on the head as he walked towards dozens of villagers, who were seated on the ground and lined up in rows with their hands behind their heads.

Several officers in uniform then start attacking one of the sitting men, beating him with a stick and kicking him repeatedly in the face.

Three junior policemen were handed two-month sentences over the video, police sources told the Agence France-Presse, including the officer who filmed it - previously identified as Zaw Myo Htike by state media.

However the officers are not serving their time in a civilian prison, but in a jail for police.

Three senior police officers, including a major, were also demoted and their service terms reduced for failing to enforce discipline.

"They didn't have any intention to hurt them," a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity, referring to the treatment of the Rohingya villagers.

"During the operation, villagers said abusive words to security forces... Such action was taken because they failed to follow police procedure."

A local police officer in Maungdaw also confirmed the officers were sentenced last month, blaming the events on the stress of working in northern Rakhine.

"Police are dealing with many pressures on the ground and we have to risk our lives dealing with terrorists," he said.

Pope Francis yesterday issued a stinging criticism of atrocities committed against the Rohingya, saying they have been tortured and killed "simply because they want to live their culture and their Muslim faith".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline '3 cops punished over abuse of Rohingya on video'. Print Edition | Subscribe