KOCHI/HYDERABAD: Some of the approximately 30 Keralites, among about 300 Indians being held hostage and forced to work as cybercriminals in a complex in Myanmar’s Myawaddy, have described to TOI the torture they suffer, including electric shocks, if they refuse to work as cybercriminals for their captors at “KK Park”. They have sought the intervention of state and central governments to secure their release.
The “billion-dollar casino and tourism complex” in Myanmar is called Shwe Kokko and is owned by Chinese businessman She Zhijiang, who, according to the BBC, was arrested last month. He was wanted by Interpol.
Nine IT professionals have been helped to return to India, MBT leader and social activist Amjed Ullah Khan told TOI in Hyderabad. Some of them were made to pay ransoms in cryptocurrency.
One abducted Keralite described a camp enclosed within high boundary walls manned by guards armed with sniper rifles. They are forced to work 16 hours a day for no pay. Besides torture and malnutrition, they are traumatised by the fear of being shot. Their passports have been seized and there are severe restrictions on using phones, which are checked frequently by armed guards. A few of them have, however, reached out to the media, risking their lives.
“…we are slaves now. They have transformed us into cyber-criminals committing large-scale data fraud every day just to stay alive,” said Binoj (name changed to protect identity), one of the victims. The phishing targets are mostly in Australia and New Zealand. Those who refused to obey were first assaulted with stun batons and tasers. Later more brutal methods, like assault, solitary confinement and starvation, were employed.
Binoj, in his early 20s, said internal inspections have increased after news reports of Indians being held hostage in Myanmar surfaced and some Indians have been shifted to other places. He fears he and others could also soon be moved to other places.
One man from Hyderabad managed to return after paying a ransom in crypto currency. The family of another IT professional has been asked to pay up to $5,000 (over Rs 4 lakh) to allow the youth to leave and cross back into the heavily guarded jungle area in Mae Sot, a Thailand district that borders Myanmar.
“We were asked to make certain purchases using cryptocurrency, which would ensure that the money reaches the men in Mae Sot,” the uncle of another kidnapped youth told TOI. “We negotiated that the amount would be paid to their agent only after my nephew was brought back and left safely in Thailand,” Maqeet said. The family is waiting to hear about the young man’s return.
The Keralites were trapped after being “recruited” as data entry operators in Thailand between July and August. On arrival in Bangkok, they were picked up at the airport and later trafficked to Myanmar by being made to illegally cross the border through forests at gunpoint.
“We knew we were being kidnapped the moment we realised that the armed persons travelling with us from the airport were not there to protect us,” Binoj said. And once in the camp, it was clear that there was no way out. “We were briefed on the rules and regulations, the crucial one being that they will shoot us and dump the body, along with our passport, at the Thailand border if we try to escape,” he said.
On Thursday, the Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra of the external affairs ministry, while responding to tweets by Amjed Ullah Khan, provided telephone numbers and an email ID to be shared with victims in need of help.