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AP: Myanmar military uses systematic torture across country

'They cremated the dead bodies straight away.” Myanmar army defector tells @AP of military's efforts to hide systemic torture of prisoners.

10/28/2021 10:57:00 AM

'They cremated the dead bodies straight away.” Myanmar army defector tells AP of military's efforts to hide systemic torture of prisoners.

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.”

Several prisoners say their interrogators brutalized only the parts of their bodies that could be hidden by clothes, which Hin Lian Piang calls a common strategy. One prisoner had his ears repeatedly slapped, leaving no scars but inflicting intense pain. Another, Min, says his interrogators placed a rubber pad over his chest and back before beating him with a rod, minimizing bruising.

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“They would just make sure to hit you so that only your insides are damaged, or would severely beat you on your back, chest and thighs, where the bruises aren’t visible,” says Min.The use of rubber pads appears to be a classic example of “stealth torture,” which leaves no physical marks, says Andrew Jefferson, a Myanmar prisons researcher at DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture.

“It seems to indicate that the torturers actually sort of care about being found out,” Jefferson says. “So few ever get convicted that I don’t really understand why they care.”The military may be attempting to pre-empt public accounts of its abuses, says Matthew Smith, cofounder of the human rights group Fortify Rights.

“This is a technique that dictatorships have used for a very long time,” he says. “What I believe the authorities are attempting to do is at least inject some level of doubt into the allegations that that survivor or that person or human rights groups or journalists or governments may accuse them of.”

One prisoner, Kyaw, said he was tortured for days and freed only after signing a statement that he had never been tortured at all.Kyaw’s hell began when the military surrounded his house and detained him for the second time since February for his pro-democracy activism. As the soldiers beat him and hauled him away with five of his friends, his mother wet her pants and fainted.

His usually stoic father began to cry. Kyaw knew what he was thinking: “There goes my son. He’s going to die.”All the way to the interrogation center in Yangon, soldiers ordered them to keep their heads bowed and beat them with their guns. When Kyaw’s 16-year-old friend became dizzy and lifted his chin, a soldier bashed his head with a gun until he bled.

At the interrogation center, the soldiers handcuffed them, chained them together and put bags over their heads. His first night was a blur of beatings. “Rest well tonight,” one soldier told him.The next morning, none of the detainees could open their swollen mouths enough to eat their rice. It was the only food Kyaw would receive for four days. He drank from the toilet.

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His interrogation began around 11 a.m. and lasted until 2 or 3 a.m. The soldiers poked his thighs with a knife. They zapped him with a taser. They rolled iron rods up and down his legs.They learned he could not swim, and kicked him into a lake, blinded by the bag on his head and paralyzed by handcuffs that bound his hands behind him. He thrashed and flailed, sinking ever deeper. They eventually yanked him out.

Their questions were monotonous. “Who are you and what are you up to?” they demanded. “I really didn’t do anything,” he replied. “I know nothing.”Another 100 detainees arrived at the center while he was there, some of their faces so disfigured from beatings they no longer looked human. A few could not walk. One detainee told Kyaw that soldiers had raped his daughter and her sister-in-law in front of him.

On the fourth day, Kyaw’s family called on a friend with military connections to intervene, and the torture stopped. But he was still held for three weeks until the tell-tale swelling in his face went down.Kyaw was finally released after he paid military officials around a thousand dollars. The officials then made him sign a statement saying that the military had never asked for money or tortured anyone. The statement also warned that if he protested again, he could be imprisoned for up to 40 years.

Kyaw does not know if his friends are still alive. But against his mother’s pleas, he has vowed to continue his activism.“I told my mother that democracy is something we have to fight for,” he says. “It won’t come to our doorsteps just by itself.”_____

The soldiers forced the 16-year-old girl to her knees, then ordered her to remove the mask meant to protect her from COVID.“You are not afraid of death – that’s why you are here,” one soldier sneered. “Don’t pretend like you are scared of the virus.”Of the prisoners interviewed by the AP, a dozen were women and children, most of whom were abused. While the men faced more severe physical torture, the women were more often psychologically tortured, especially with the threat of rape.

Sixteen-year-old Su remembers kneeling with her hands in the air as a soldier warned, “Get ready for your turn.” She remembers walking between two rows of soldiers while they taunted, “Keep your strength for tomorrow.”Su pleaded in vain for soldiers to help one of her fellow inmates, a girl even younger than she, whose leg was broken during her arrest. The soldiers refused to let the girl call her family.

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Another girl, around 13, cried constantly and fainted at least six times the day they were arrested. Rather than call a doctor, officers sprayed the child with water.Prison officials warned Su never to speak of what happened inside to people on the outside. “They said, ‘We really are nice to you. Tell the people the good things about us,’” Su says. “What good things?”

Su had never stayed apart from her parents before. Now she was barred from even calling them, and had no idea that both her grandfathers had died.“As soon as I was released, I had to take sleeping pills for nearly three months,” Su says. “I cried every day.”

Inside Shwe Pyi Thar interrogation center in Yangon, the women grew to dread the night, when the soldiers got drunk and came to their cell.“You all know where you are, right?” the soldiers told them. “We can rape and kill you here.”The women had good reason to be frightened. The military has long used rape as a weapon of war, particularly in the ethnic regions. During its violent crackdown on the country’s Rohingya Muslim population in 2017,

the military methodically raped scores of women and girls.“Even if they did not rape us physically, I felt like all of us were verbally raped almost every day because we had to listen to their threats every night,” says Cho, an activist detained along with her husband.

Another young woman recalls her four months in a southwest Myanmar prison, and the constant fear of torture and rape.“I was locked in the cell and they could call me out at any time,” she says.A teacher, held for eight days at an interrogation center, learned to fear the sound of the cell door.

“Our thoughts ran wild, like: ‘Are they coming to take me? Or are they coming to take her?’” the teacher says. “When we saw them blindfolding someone, we were extremely anxious because that could be me.”Not every woman was spared from violence. Cho’s cellmate was beaten so severely with a bamboo stick that she could not sit or sleep on her back for five days. And though Cho was not subjected to physical assaults at Shwe Pyi Thar, officers at Insein prison struck her on the back of her neck and forced her into a stress position.

When she objected, they beat her back and shoulders, then banished her to solitary confinement for two weeks.For another woman, Myat, the beatings began the moment the soldiers burst into her home, smashing the butts of their guns into her chest and shoving a rifle into her mouth. As they arrested her and her friends, she heard one of them say: “Shoot them if they try to run.” She cries while recounting her ordeal.

One 17-year-old boy endured days of beatings, the skin on his head splitting open from the force of the blows. As one interrogator punched him, another stitched his head wound with a sewing needle. They gave him no pain medication, telling him the brutal treatment was all that he was worth. His body was drenched in blood.

After three days, he says, they took him to the jungle and dumped him in a hole in the ground, burying him up to his neck. Then they threatened to kill him with a shovel.“If they ever tried to arrest me again, I wouldn’t let them,” he says. “I would commit suicide.”

___Back inside the rural town hall, the young man ached for his mother as his night passed in a haze of pain. The next morning, he and his friend were sent to prison.His small cell was home to 33 people. Every inch of floor was claimed, so he lay next to the lone squat toilet.

An inmate gently cleaned the blood from the young man’s eyes. When he looked at his friend’s battered face, he began to cry.After two days, his family paid to get him out of prison. He and his friend were forced to sign statements saying they had participated in a demonstration and would now obey the military’s rules.

At home, his mother took one look at him and wept. For a month afterward, his legs and hands shook constantly. Even today, his right shoulder — stomped on by a soldier — won’t move properly.He is constantly on edge. Two months after his release, he realized he was being followed by soldiers. When the sun goes down, he stays inside.

“After they caught us, I know their hearts and their minds were not like the people’s, not like us,” he says. “They are monsters.”___ Gelineau reported from Sydney. Associated Press journalist Sam McNeil in Beijing contributed to this report. Read more: The Associated Press »

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AP: Myanmar military uses systematic torture across countryJAKARTA, 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.” How are we supposed to read through all that and then just go on with our day? There's nowhere for the heaviness to go.

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AP: Myanmar military uses systematic torture across countryJAKARTA, 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.” How are we supposed to read through all that and then just go on with our day? There's nowhere for the heaviness to go.

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