Children among the victims as Myanmar military mount campaign of torture

The soldiers in rural Myanmar twisted the young man’s skin with pliers and kicked him in the chest until he could not breathe. Then they taunted him about his family : “Your mom,” they jeered, “cannot save you anymore”.

he young man and his friend, randomly arrested as they rode their bikes home, were subjected to hours of agony inside a town hall transformed into a torture centre.

Since its takeover of the government in February, the Myanmar military has been torturing detainees across the country in a methodical and systemic way, The Associated Press has found in interviews with 28 people imprisoned and released in recent months.

Based also on photographic evidence, sketches and letters, along with testimony from three recently defected military officials, AP’s investigation provides the most comprehensive look since the takeover into a highly secretive detention system that has held more than 9,000 people. The military, known as the Tatmadaw, and police have killed more than 1,200 people since February.

While most of the torture has occurred inside military compounds, the Tatmadaw also has transformed public facilities such as community halls and a royal palace into interrogation centres, prisoners said. The AP identified a dozen interrogation centres in use across Myanmar, based on interviews and satellite imagery.

The prisoners came from every corner of the country and from various ethnic groups, and ranged from a 16-year-old girl to monks. One woman was imprisoned alongside a two-year-old baby. Some were detained for protesting against the military, others for no discernible reason.

The AP is withholding the prisoners’ names, or using partial names, to protect them from retaliation by the military.

Inside the town hall that night, soldiers forced the young man to kneel on sharp rocks, shoved a gun in his mouth and rolled a baton over his shinbones. They slapped him in the face with his own Nike flip flops.

“Tell me! Tell me!” they shouted.

“What should I tell you?” he replied helplessly.

The Myanmar military has a long history of torture, particularly before the country began transitioning toward democracy in 2010. 

While torture in recent years was most often recorded in ethnic regions, its use has now returned across the country.

The vast majority of torture techniques described by prisoners were similar to those of the past, including deprivation of sleep, food and water; electric shocks; being forced to hop like frogs, and relentless beatings with cement-filled bamboo sticks, batons and fists.

But this time, the torture is the worst it has ever been in scale and severity, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which monitors deaths and arrests.

The torture often begins on the street or in the detainees’ homes, and some die even before reaching an interrogation centre, says Ko Bo Kyi, AAPP’s joint secretary and a former political prisoner. “The military tortures detainees, first for revenge, then for information,” he says. “I think in many ways the military has become even more brutal.”

The military has taken steps to hide evidence of its torture. An aide to the highest-ranking army official in western Myanmar’s Chin state told the AP that soldiers covered up the deaths of two tortured prisoners, forcing a military doctor to falsify their autopsy reports.

A former army captain who defected from the Tatmadaw in April confirmed to the AP that the military’s use of torture against detainees has been rampant since its takeover.

After receiving detailed requests for comment, military officials responded with a one-line email that said: “We have no plans to answer these nonsense questions.”

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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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