Myanmar Police Official Sentenced in Sexual Harassment Case

myanmar-female-police-officers-letpadan-mar3-2015.jpg Myanmar police officers prepare to defend a human-chain they formed to stop student protesters in the central Myanmar town of Letpadan, March 3, 2015.
Associated Press

A high-ranking police official in Myanmar was sentenced Friday for sexually exploiting female subordinates in exchange for promotions, a Ministry of Home Affairs official said — a rare conviction in a society where men hold most positions of authority and generally are not held to account for abuses of power.

Police Brigadier General Zaw Moe Than, who oversaw officer appointments in the Myanmar Police Force, was jailed in Mandalay region after being found guilty of demanding sex from a female officer in exchange for a promotion, according to local media reports.

Zaw Moe Than had been detained and subject to an investigation after the ministry, which oversees the country’s police force, received a complaint against him in May.

At least eight female officers filed complaints accusing him of sexual exploitation, according to reports by the online journal The Irrawaddy.

Zaw Moe Than faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison under the Myanmar Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law, said ministry spokesman Police Colonel Kyaw Thiha.

“He was sentenced at the Police Court, but relevant authorities need to confirm his sentence before we can announce it publicly,” he said. The spokesman declined to confirm media reports that Zaw Moe Than had been sent to Mandalay’s Yamethin Prison.

RFA could not reach police spokesmen for comment on allegations by other female officers who reported Zaw Moe Than for sexual exploitation.

Abuse of power and other corrupt practices are deeply rooted in the police force, though most who commit them are not held accountable for their actions, current and retired officers told RFA.

Of the punitive action taken against more than 2,800 police officers from 2016 to 2020, only 19 cases, including the one against Zaw Moe Than, were prosecuted under Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Law, which includes penalties for abusing power, said Police Major General Myo Swe Win, deputy chief of the Myanmar Police Force.

“It shouldn’t be like this — breaking the law by someone who is serving to protect the law,” said former Police Major Thi Thi Myint, referring to Zaw Moe Than.

“It is the action of police officers who don’t really understand what’s in the police manual,” she told RFA. “If they performed their duties according to the police manual, then there would be no [problems].”

Myanmar lacks a specific law about the abuse of power and sexual harassment in the workplace, and the police manual does not include provisions about sexual assaults by officers, attorney Hla Hla Yee, director and advocate of Legal Clinic Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar attorney and legal affairs analyst Khin Maung Zaw said that the misuse of power constitutes corruption.

“Most people think corruption is related only to money, but the misuse of power is also corruption,” he told RFA.

The corruption problem is especially acute among former high-raking soldiers dubbed moe kya shwego, or “golden ones fallen from the sky,” who transferred to the police force, said retired Police Lieutenant Colonel Thein Aung.

“Most top-level police officers are from the military, [but] when they change uniforms, they don’t know about police policies, so they might be weak when it comes to police ethics,” he said.

“A few of them are good with no scandals concerning women, and they are less corrupt,” he added.

Two reasons why corruption is commonplace among police are that their salaries are usually not enough to cover their family expenses and they do not receive enough support from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Thein Aung said.

Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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