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Trapped in Hell: Trafficking, enslavement and torture of youth by Chinese criminal gangs in northeast Shan State since the 2021 coup

October 17th, 2023  •  Author:   Shan Human Rights Foundation  •  3 minute read
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This report is based on interviews with three young women and two young men who suffered severe abuse at the hands of Chinese criminal gangs operating on-line scamming, gambling and pornography businesses in the Kokang and Wa regions of northeastern Shan State of Burma.

Their experiences took place after the February 2021 military coup, and in the case of four interviewees, directly resulted from their education and jobs being cut short by the coup. Three former students and one CDM nurse needed to look for work and ended up being trafficked into situations of enslavement in the United Wa State Army (UWSA)-controlled towns of Panghsang and Mong Bawk, where they were forced to scam people on-line, provide sexual services to Chinese gang members, and take part in online porn videos. When they resisted, they were subjected to physical torture and, in the case of the women, sexual assault.

The interviewee who was not trafficked, but voluntarily worked for an on-line casino in the Kokang capital Laukkai, recounted how her younger sister, who worked with her, committed suicide by jumping from a high-storey building after being accused of embezzlement and then gang-raped by her Chinese employer and his associates when unable to repay the missing funds.

Payment of up to 30,000 yuan was demanded from the trafficked victims in exchange for release. One was released after her family paid the fee. Two were released after another victim’s family used connections with the Wa authorities. One managed to escape while being moved to another location. None of the abusers has been brought to justice.

The testimonies provide clear evidence of collusion between the Chinese criminals and the local authorities. In two cases, when victims’ families contacted the UWSA liaison office in Lashio for help, the criminals were tipped off and either escaped or moved the victims to another location before being “raided”. The on-line scamming centre in Laukkai was openly guarded by uniformed members of the regime-aligned Kokang Militia Force.

The victims forced into cyber scamming in Mong Bawk revealed that they used the Burmese military-owned Mytel network, the only Burmese telecom service in the northern Wa area — raising questions as to why the State Administration Council (SAC) regime, with its extensive surveillance capability, is failing to crack down on cyber crime on its own network.

SHRF urges the Kokang and Wa authorities to stop colluding with and protecting the criminal gangs operating in their areas, and urges China to take more effective measures to hold their   citizens to account for involvement in these operations.

SHRF also urges Vietnam, whose state-owned Viettel is a joint partner in Mytel, to investigate the use of the Mytel network for cyber crime in northeast Shan State.

Download full report in English I Burmese I Shan I Chinese I Thai.