Ko Sithu and Sandar Win Aung were eating at a roadside restaurant at 2:30am on Saturday. After a long day working at Laundry King, the couple’s laundromat business in downtown Yangon, they were both exhausted. While Ko Sithu ate dinner, Ma Sandar sat quietly beside him; she was upset because he hadn’t helped her finish up their shift.
A taxi driver passed by their table and said: “Why are you frowning? Did you not hit the jackpot? Did you not get a customer tonight?” Ma Sandar looked up and realized the driver was addressing her, implying that she was a prostitute. She grew upset and started taking teacups from her table and throwing them at the driver.
Ko Sithu attempted to calm his wife down, asking the cab driver whether he was drunk or not.
“I’m not drunk; you just looked like someone I know,” the driver said. He apologized to Ma Sandar repeatedly, and she left the restaurant. The entire exchange was witnessed by two uniformed police officers eating in the same roadside restaurant.
Ko Sithu entered the restaurant to pay for the three broken teacups, and on his way out, a police officer called out to him and asked for his address.
“Hey Kaung, come here! Where do you live?”
Ko Sithu asked him why they were asking him for his address, and they accused him of causing trouble at the restaurant. After attempting to explain to them that the incident was between his wife and a taxi driver, they said: “Your wife’s problem is your responsibility.”
After suggesting that the police officers talk to the taxi driver as well, about twenty police officers, patrol officers, and a police captain, began berating Ko Sithu.
“Who do you think you are? Why are you talking back to me?”
When he offered to explain the situation, the police captain told him to shut up and come down with him to the police station.
The restaurant, located at the corner of Mahabandoola and Kone Zay Tan roads, was a short walk away from the police station at the upper end of Kone Zay Tan road. As the police officers escorted Ko Sithu to the police station, he called Ma Sandar to tell her to come down to the station. When they crossed Mahabandoola Road, in the shadows between the street lights, Private Naing Lin Htun yelled: “Who are you calling on the phone?” as he struck Ko Sithu with the butt of his gun on the side of his head and again on the back of his head.
The incident was spelled out in a detailed account in a Facebook post by Ma Sandar, which has been shared more than 13,000 times. The post includes photos of the bloody wound left by the police officer’s attack on Ko Sithu’s head.
In a Facebook Live video, Ma Sandar confronted police officers at the Panbedan police station, asking why her husband was assaulted and demanding that they hold the responsible officers accountable. She also questioned them about their duties and responsibilities as police officers.
According to a follow-up Facebook post, the sub-lieutenant of the Panbedan police station asked her to delete the video of their confrontation. She refused, saying that she needed the evidence to resolve the matter later. Her decision proved to be the right one.
Shortly after the case went viral on social media, the Yangon Police Force’s Facebook page released a statement notifying the public that an internal investigation was being launched to hold the officers accountable under the People’s Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law.
Yesterday, Ma Sandar updated her Facebook followers about the couple’s negotiations with the Panbedan police station. Instead of filing a lawsuit against the police officers, the officer who assaulted Ko Sithu apologized for 30 minutes and gave the couple the equivalent of four months’ salary as compensation for the damage he caused. This amounted to K480,000 (US$325).
“For now, we are happy that he will be punished under the People’s Police Force Maintenance Law. We are happy that many people are now aware of this problem. Uniformed police officers should not brutalize innocent civilians. We are thankful for the immediate actions taken to investigate this matter,” Ma Sandar reflected.
“We are seeing the fruits of democracy come to bear. We feel that our nation is headed towards peace and prosperity because of this.”