Despite some public reporting on drug deals, there have not been many tip-offs about large transactions, President U Win Myint told a ceremony marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26.
While the President was delivering a speech at the event in Nay Pyi Taw, one big narcotics informer has had to leave his home and secretly move to another location.
The President, who tends to speak enthusiastically about anti-drug measures, whether in his inaugural speech or New Year greetings, is apparently not forgetting dutiful citizen Ko Yarzar Hein, whose tip-off helped police seize 14 million stimulant tablets.
As a consequence of such information, Ko Yarzar Hein and his family had to leave their home town, Okshitpin, and not reveal their whereabouts. Even those who know their new location are keeping it secret.
“He called me to say he was in big, big trouble. Later, they left town,” said Daw Khin Hnin Thit, MP for Padaung township, Bago Region, who has been one of Ko Yarzar Hein’s staunchest advocates in the hluttaw.
He hid in the jungle for more than a week to inform on the drug haul two years ago, which people still remember in Okshitpin.
Without his actions, police would not have found the drugs, which were hidden in tanks.
For his bravery and courage, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi selected him for a great honour. (Unfortunately the certificate of honour shows Ko Yarzar Hein’s photo and personal information, so it must remain secret for reasons of security.)
Despite all the praise, life has since become hard for Ko Yarzar Hein and his family. They received threats, and his business no longer does well. Fear spread through the community and people stopped coming to his bike shop and his wife’s dress shop. Although police protection was arranged, it only lasted a few months.
According to locals, Ko Yarzar Hein stopped going out, because if he did, he had to go in disguise. His family, including two children, eventually had to move out of town. The community shouldn’t be blamed as everyone is worried about their own lives, said Daw Pa Pa Kyi, a head of his former ward.
Taking a lesson from this, people have become reluctant to fight crime, she said.
‘If we fail to combat this issue ... the future of our country is just unthinkable.’ - U Win Myint, President of Myanmar
Ko Yarzar Hein seems to have dropped the curtain on his previous life, and now contacts only his most-trusted friends by phone.
“It is like his life was destroyed,” she said.
Whistleblowers need protection, and those in power should try to provide it, she said.
Now police have to ask award winners whether they want to receive their prize at a public ceremony or anonymously, said former Police Brigadier General Win Khaung.
Even a chief minister has been threatened because of government anti-narcotic measures. Mandalay Chief Minister U Zaw Myint Maung admitted receiving a threat in 2018 after he submitted a report to the president to seize drugs. The President’s Office established the “Drug Tip-off Centre” in June 2018.
However, large-scale dealers are still at large. “The police only arrest small-time operators, like drivers, who they won’t tell who the owners of the drugs are in court, because if they did, their families would be in danger. So it is difficult to arrest narcotics suppliers,” said Police Captain Win Myint at a meeting on drug control policy in 2018.
According to the President’s Office, there were more than 3700 hectares of opium poppies, and heroin production exceeded 500 tonnes in Myanmar in 2018. The Anti-Narcotics Task Force conducted 25 operations, and more than US$300 million of seized illicit drugs were destroyed to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
The President acknowledged that the demand and consumption of drugs are huge amid growing production and widespread availability.
“If we fail to combat the issue in harmony, the future of our country in another decade is just unthinkable,” said U Win Myint.
While the president urges people to inform on drug gang operations, there are voices who demand that those who have already done so, like Ko Yarzar Hein, not be neglected.
“When the informer is threatened, the security of his or her family should be taken into account. They shouldn’t be viewed as ordinary families. They should be protected on behalf of the public,” said retired police Brig. Gen. Win Khaung.
Informers deserve the best possible protection, because the police alone cannot deal with the narcotics problem without the public’s help, he said.
A job has been provided to Ko Yarzar Hein’s family by a business person, although, for security reasons, details of their whereabouts or where they are working remain a secret.
“What he did for the country was no trivial matter, but the government has failed to ensure the protection of this person who served the nation,” Daw Khin Hnin Thit said.