Junta fears Teashop campaign-forcing teashop and restaurant owners to carry out surveillance on their clients who are talking about politics

Wed 03 Jun 2009, Kon Hadae, IMNA
The local authorities in Mudon township are now forcing teashop and restaurant owners to carry out surveillance on their clients who are talking about politics. Failure of shop owners to report instance of political discussion will result in punishment.

Over one week ago, local Burmese State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) authorities from Mon state, Mudon town, called teashop and restaurant owners from the Mudon town and Kamawatt village Mudon township, to a meeting held in a secret location, to initiate their new program of surveillance over people who are talking about politics, according to a resident from Kamawatt village. If shop owners see or hear that people are talking about politics, the shop owners must memorize these people’s names, and then tell these names to the authorities, according to a resident shop owner. This is the first instance of forced government surveillance in the area, and no one is clear why this new program has been put into practice now.

Even though shop owners know the people who are talking about politics, if they refuse or forget to tell the authority, the shopkeepers will be punished. While there is no guarantee of being caught, if a shop owner fails to report political talk, the threat of punishment is there. So far there are no reports of shop owners directly disobeying the order to carry out surveillance against shop clients.

“If we see any one who is talking about politics, we have to tell them [authorities], If we are not going to tell them we will have to be punished, they said in the meeting”, said a shop owner whose name and village have been withheld for security purposes. According to a source close to shop owners, the local authorities forced the shopkeepers to sign an agreement in the meeting. If the news of the meeting spreads beyond the shop owners who collect information, they will have to be punished. The authorities are concerned that if patrons of the teashops and restaurants hear about the forced surveillance efforts, they will not come or be less likely to talk politics there.

“Authorities told them [shop owners] this news is not to be spread to the outside,” said a source close to one of the shop owners. “If this news spreads outside, shop owner who spread information about surveillance will have action taken against them.”

“I also heard about this as a rumor for 8 days in Thanphyuzayet, and when I asked the one of teashop owners, the owner said that it is not truth,” said a villager from Thanphyuzayet. “I think, he is afraid that the authorities will punish him as he promised not to tell anyone”.

The authorities have only called tea and restaurant owners to carry out surveillance. They did not force other shop owners to do this as well. According to another source close to a shop owner, they are being selected because people like to talk about politics in the teashops and restaurants.

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