The Bible vs. the Heroin (Myanmar) Portfolio
January 2016 - January 2018
In Kachin State, Myanmar, a religious militia, the "Pat Jasan", is trying to stem the massive production and consumption of opium and heroin. Supported by the local Christian Churches and the Kachin Independence Organization, they destroy opium fields and arrest consumers and drug dealers. Thousands of them have been sent to rehabilitation camps where Bible teaching acts as a treatment.
The war on drugs casts light on the ethnic, political and military divisions of the Kachin State. The staggering consumption of opium and heroin, combined with a locally-criticized central government’s response, led to the creation of a state-wide anti-drug militia: the “Pat Jasan”. The movement was first launched in 2010 by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in the territories it administers. The KIO has been fighting against the Burmese government for the independence of the Kachin State since the early 60s. With the support from local Christian Churches, the Pat Jasan extended their actions in 2014 to the areas controlled by the Burmese authorities.
The Pat Jasan name, "Prevent and Destroy" in Kachin language, is a clear message addressed to drug users and traffickers. These vigilantes conduct poppy eradication operations throughout the state. More than 4000 acres have already been destroyed. But despite their efforts, Myanmar remains the second largest opium producer in the world. Opium eradication creates significant tensions with the Burmese central government. In fact, some fields are defended by armed groups of farmers who are, according to some Pat Jasan, supported by auxiliary governmental troops, the Border Guard Forces. Pat Jasan’s combat is backed by the Kachin Independence Army’s attempt to suppress poppy crops. In 2011, the KIO's armed wing has resumed its military battle against the Burmese army. Opium will be an important issue in the resolution of this five-decade-long conflict.
Pat Jasan also patrol to arrest drug dealers and users, who are then sent to Pat Jasan-run detention and rehabilitation centers for several months. In these camps, Bible studies are supposed to cure the “inmates-students” and God’s word must suffice. Thus, methadone, a synthetic opiate,--used as a substitute for heroin in the rare Burmese government rehabilitation centers--is prohibited. Former detainees sometimes volunteer to become Pat Jasan. These conversions tend to pacify the relations between guards and drug addicts. Thousands have passed through these camps since their creation. The Pat Jasan’s approach of the drug problem competes with that of local NGOs. Even with a local HIV prevalence rate of about 30 percent amongst heroin addicts, Pat Jasan disagree with NGO’s harm reduction programs, such as distribution of sterile syringes, accused of fueling drug use.