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AP: Myanmar military uses systematic torture across country

AP Investigation: The Myanmar military has tortured detainees across the country in a methodical and systemic way since taking over the government in February.

10/28/2021 8:35:00 AM

AP Investigation: The Myanmar military has tortured detainees across the country in a methodical and systemic way since taking over the government in February.

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The soldiers in rural Myanmar twisted the young man’s skin with pliers and kicked him in the chest until he couldn’t breathe. Then they taunted him about his family until his heart ached, too: “Your mom,” they jeered, “cannot save you anymore.”

“There was no break – it was constant,” he says. “I was thinking only of my mom.”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.

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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 centers, prisoners said. The AP identified a dozen interrogation centers in use across Myanmar, in addition to prisons and police lockups, 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. Some were detained for protesting against the military, others for no discernible reason. Multiple military units and police were involved in the interrogations, their methods of torture similar across Myanmar. headtopics.com

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.He refused to scream. But his friend screamed on his behalf, after realizing it calmed the interrogators.“I’m going to die,” he told himself, stars exploding before his eyes. “I love you, mom.’”

___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 AP’s investigation found. 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, fists and the prisoners’ own shoes.

But this time, the torture carried out inside interrogation centers and prisons is the worst it’s ever been in scale and severity, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors deaths and arrests. Since February, the group says, security forces have killed 1,218 people, including at least 131 detainees tortured to death. headtopics.com

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Dig deeper:A monk, a student, an artist: Tortured by Myanmar militaryThe torture often begins on the street or in the detainees’ homes, and some die even before reaching an interrogation center, 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.“In our country, after being arrested unfairly, there is torture, violence and sexual assaults happening constantly,” says Lin Htet Aung, the former captain. “Even a war captive needs to be treated and taken care of by law. All of that is gone with the coup. … The world must know.”

Lin Htet Aung told the AP that interrogation tactics are part of the military’s training, which involves both theory and role playing. He and another former army captain who recently defected say that the general guidelines from superiors are, simply: We don’t care how you get the information, so long as you get it. headtopics.com

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.”Last week, in an apparent bid to improve its image, the military announced that more than 1,300 detainees would be freed from prisons and the charges against 4,320 others pending trial would be suspended. But it’s unclear how many have actually been released and how many of those have already been re-arrested.

All but six of the prisoners interviewed by the AP were subjected to abuse, including women and children. Most of those who weren’t abused said their fellow detainees were.In two cases, the torture was used to extract false confessions. Several prisoners were forced to sign statements pledging obedience to the military before they were released. One woman was made to sign a blank piece of paper.

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All prisoners were interviewed separately by the AP. Those who had been held at the same centers gave similar accounts of treatment and conditions, from interrogation methods to the layout of their cells to the exact foods provided — if any.ADVERTISEMENT

The AP also sent photographs of several torture victims’ injuries to a forensic pathologist with Physicians for Human Rights. The pathologist concluded wounds on three victims were consistent with beatings by sticks or rods.“You look at some of those injuries where they’re just black and blue from one end to the other,” says forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas. “This was not just a swat. This has the appearance of something that was very systematic and forceful.”

Beyond the 28 prisoners, the AP interviewed the sister of a prisoner allegedly tortured to death, family and friends of current prisoners, and lawyers representing detainees. The AP also obtained sketches that prisoners drew of the interiors of prisons and interrogation centers, and letters to family and friends describing grim conditions and abuse.

Photographs taken inside several detention and interrogation facilities confirmed prisoners’ accounts of overcrowding and filth. Most inmates slept on concrete floors, packed together so tightly they could not even bend their knees.Some became sick from drinking dirty water only available from a shared toilet. Others had to defecate into plastic bags or a communal bucket. Cockroaches swarmed their bodies at night.

There waslittle to no medical help. One prisoner described his failed attempt to get treatment for his battered 18-year-old cellmate, whose genitals were repeatedly smashed between a brick and an interrogator’s boot.Not even the young have been spared. One woman was imprisoned alongside a 2-year-old baby. Another woman held in solitary confinement at the notorious Insein prison in Yangon said officials admitted to her that conditions were made as wretched as possible to terrify the public into compliance.

Amid these circumstances, COVID ripped through some facilities, with deadly results.One woman detained at Insein said the virus killed her cellmate.“I was infected. The whole dorm was infected. Everyone lost their sense of smell,” she says.The interrogation centers were even worse than the prisons, with nights a cacophony of weeping and wails of agony.

“It was terrifying, my room. There were blood stains and scratches on the wall,” one man recalls. “I could see smudged, bloody handprints and blood-vomit stains in the corner of the room.”Throughout the interviews, the Tatmadaw’s sense of impunity was clear.

“They would torture us until they got the answers they wanted,” says one 21-year-old. “They always told us, ‘Here at the military interrogation centers, we do not have any laws. We have guns, and we can just kill you and make you disappear if we want to — and no one would know.’”

----ADVERTISEMENTThe tortured prisoners were already dead when soldiers began attaching glucose drip lines to their corpses to make it look like they were still alive, a military defector told the AP. It was one of multiple examples the AP found of how the military tries to hide its abuse.

Torture is rife throughout the detention system, says Sgt. Hin Lian Piang, who served as a clerk to the North-Western Regional Deputy Commander before defecting in October.“They arrest, beat and torture too many,” he says. “They did it to everyone who was arrested.”

In May, Hin Lian Piang witnessed soldiers torture two prisoners to death at a mountaintop interrogation center inside an army base in Chin state. The soldiers beat the two men, hit them with their guns, and kicked them, he says.After the men were put into jail, one of them died. The major in charge asked the military’s medical doctor to examine the man and determine his cause of death. Meanwhile, the other prisoner began trembling and then died, too.

The soldiers attached the drip lines to the prisoners’ corpses, then sent them to a military hospital in Kalay.“They forced the Kalay military doctor to write in the chest biopsy report that they died from their own health problems,” Hin Lian Piang says. “Then they cremated the dead bodies straight away.”

Hin Lian Piang says the direct order to cover up the cause of the men’s deaths came from Tactical Operations Commander Col. Saw Tun and Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Myo Htut Hlaing, the two highest-ranking army officials stationed in Chin state. The AP sent questions about the case to the Tatmadaw but they were not answered.

Read more: The Associated Press »

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