Myanmar (Burma)

burma1.jpg Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has a serious problem with illegal drugs. Opium poppies are cultivated widely in the more remote areas, and the country remains one of the world's largest producers of opium, heroin and other narcotics.

Although the government of Myanmar has "declared war" on the drug trade, this is widely seen as a smokescreen for attacking the country's ethnic minorities. The drug problem is unlikely to improve while the autonomous Myanmar army treats local militias (who control the drugs trade) as useful allies in their counterinsurgency campaigns against ethnic rebels.

burma2.jpg burma4.jpg The government's inaction has led to a rise in Christian vigilante groups, who hunt down and "re-educate" drug addicts. Dressed in military fatigues and helmets, and armed with bamboo rods, these vigilantes stage night-time raids and kidnap suspected drug users.

These pictures show victims of these raids held in the stocks inside a church’s wooden outbuilding. If they are lucky, they will be released after a few days in the stocks. The less fortunate are sent to "rehabilitation" camps where they will be flogged with bamboo rods and forced to denounce drugs.

The final picture shows a policeman (Thein Htay Aung) in the stocks, together with another man. They were both apprehended by a local militia for drug possession in Namhkam on 23 January 2015, who suspected that the policeman was dealing drugs.

burma3.jpg Not only was the arrest of a policeman unusual, but the militia turned him over to the local police station rather than dealing with the matter themselves. The Namhkam police authorities promised that appropriate action will be brought against Thein Htay Maung. In the meantime, he and his compatriot were placed in the stocks in a public area in the town.

Officially sanctioning the exposure of criminals in public stocks is very different from vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. As far as I am aware, this makes Myanmar the only country which still uses the stocks as a judicial punishment.

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Last modified 20 March 2018.
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