By David Eimer, Bangkok
A dozen gay men in Mandalay are alleged to have been stripped, beaten and abused by police who said they were performing a “public service” by detaining them.
News of the arrests comes less than a week after Burmese president Thein Sein was pressed by David Cameron to improve Burma’s human rights record during their meeting in London.
Despite widely-praised reforms since 2011, around 300 political prisoners remain jailed in the former military state, while the government has been accused of failing to take action to stop the recent deadly wave of violence against Muslims.
The men, who were wearing women’s clothes, were rounded up earlier this month after gathering by the historic moat in the centre of Mandalay, Burma’s second city. They were stripped in public, before being taken to a nearby police station where they were repeatedly punched and kicked.
They were then forced to parade naked as if on a catwalk, while being photographed, as well as made to hop like frogs, clean the shoes of the police and answer demeaning questions about their sex lives, according to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
Some of the men were released after signing pledges that they would no longer wear women’s clothing in public, but others have been charged under a law that makes it illegal to walk about at night in disguise.
A police spokesman said they were performing a “public service” by preventing the men from congregating.
While homosexuality remains illegal in Burma and is punishable by a prison sentence of between ten years and life, the law is rarely enforced. But official discrimination against the gay and lesbian community is widespread, according to human rights groups.
In a statement, the AHRC accused the police of having “deliberately targeted” homosexuals and urged Burma to sign the UN Convention against Torture.
Lesbian and gay activists said they would sue the Mandalay police for mistreating the men. “If the court accepts the case, it will show there are laws in this country,” said Aung Myo Min, the director of Equality Myanmar.