A monk, a student, an artist: Tortured by Myanmar military

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — A monk was made to hop like a frog, in a humiliation tactic. An accountant was shocked with electric probes. An artist was beaten in the head with a baton until he passed out.

Since the military took over Myanmar’s government in February, it has tortured detainees held across the country in a methodical and systemic way, an Associated Press investigation has found. The military has also abducted thousands, including young men and boys; used the bodies of the dead and wounded as tools of terror and deliberately attacked medics during a pandemic. Since February, security forces have killed more than 1,200 people, including an estimated 131 or more tortured to death.

Here are a few more stories of prisoners abused by the military.

THE MONK: “LIKE HELL”

A 31-year-old monk was grazed with a bullet while running from the military, handcuffed and beaten with batons and rifles. Security forces kicked him in the head, chest and back. They also photographed the monk and other protesters with gasoline bottles to manufacture evidence of criminal intent.

The soldiers forced the monk to change into civilian clothing and sent him to a torture center set up in Mandalay Palace.

“The interrogation camp in the palace was really like hell,” he says.

They ordered him to hop like a frog. Then they took him to a cell with no toilet. Prisoners urinated in a corner of the cell and defecated into plastic bags.

After six days, he was sent to a police station and then a nearby prison, where he was jammed into a cell with 50 other prisoners.

At night, they had to lay down on the floor. If they lifted their heads, the prison guards shot them with a slingshot.

“Sometimes, especially when they were drunk, they tended to torture the prisoners,” he says. ”If they were drunk, they also tended to come to us and ask why we were saying our prayers at a certain time. … Then they shot us with the slingshot.”

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THE ACCOUNTANT: “I COULD DIE HERE”

A 21-year-old accountant’s interrogation started at a police station, where soldiers kicked him in the arms, thighs and ribs, and hit him in the head and back. He felt like he was going to faint. He was blindfolded and driven to 9-Mile Interrogation Center in Yangon.

A soldier demanded to know if he had anything to do with a series of bombings, and told him there was a morgue and crematorium in the compound. When the accountant denied any link, the soldier dragged him to the ground by the nape of his neck and forced him to kneel. Later, other soldiers tied him to the wall and beat him.

The soldiers kicked him in the chest and hit his back with a PVC pipe until it broke. They hit him only in places that could be hidden by clothing. He blacked out.

They woke him by dumping ice water on his head. While he was drenched, they shocked him with electric probes.

“I was shaking so much it felt like I was going to die,” he says. “Then they zapped me the second time, and then I passed out again.”

He was released from 9-Mile only after his family paid money to officials. But soldiers immediately transported him to another interrogation center, Shwe Pyi Thar.

There, soldiers beat him with a rubber baton and kept him in a pitch dark room for so long that he lost track of where he was.

They drafted a confession statement he was forced to sign. After his father paid more money, he was released.

“I told myself that I could die here…..I kept thinking, how could they be inflicting this kind of excruciating pain towards other human beings?” he says.

———

THE ARTIST: “I TRIED NOT TO HAVE ANY HOPE”

A 21-year-old artist was arrested by security forces during a protest and beaten in the head with a baton until he passed out.

When he awoke, he heard a soldier say, “Hey, just kill these guys already.” Another soldier warned him that there were CCTV cameras nearby, and they began dismantling the cameras.

“They were about to kill us,” the artist recalls. “This is it for me, you know?”

But the local police soon arrived, and told the soldiers they couldn’t kill the young men. The artist was taken to the police station, and then to Shwe Pyi Thar interrogation center in Yangon, where he was held for four days.

“Once I got to the interrogation center, I tried not to have any hope,” he says.

A police officer told him to sit down, so he did. A soldier then asked him why he was sitting and beat him.

The room reeked of blood. At night, he could hear banging noises and the sounds of people being beaten.

“Whenever we heard a door opening with the squeaking metal sound, late at night from the back, the whole cell would be startled, wondering who had been taken out for interrogation,” he says. “Some of the people, they never came back.”

After four days, he was transferred to Insein prison, where he was held for three months before finally being released.

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THE STUDENT: “IT’S VERY SYSTEMATIC”

The 23-year-old student from Yangon was arrested on March 3 alongside others protesting the military’s takeover.

They were transported to an indoor football stadium, where officials collected their names, addresses and phone numbers. Then they were taken to Insein prison. More than 50 people were inside each vehicle, and a few women fainted.

At Insein, up to 180 people were jammed into each cell.

“It’s really, really bad,” the student says. “Especially for this COVID time.”

On his second night, the military questioned him about his work with the student union.

The next morning, at 7 a.m., he and three other prisoners were taken outside. The officers ordered them to kneel, handcuffed their hands behind their backs, blindfolded their eyes and placed a hood over their heads. They tied a rope around the young man’s neck and his body and held onto it like a leash.

The students were forced inside a vehicle, where the soldiers beat and kicked them. They drove for an hour to the interrogation center.

He was kept at the interrogation center for three days. The first night, around 2 a.m., around five officers beat him and told him that if he lied, they would take him to the barracks where the dogs lived. He was blindfolded and handcuffed, hauled out of the room and beaten outside.

He was taken back to Insein, where he saw officers scratching knives through other prisoners’ tattoos.

“It’s very systematic,” he says of the torture. “There is a pattern.”

He spent four months at Insein. He spoke with an old man who had been beaten so badly that he was blinded in one eye.

After he was released on June 30, he spent two days with his family, then fled to a new location to hide.

———

THE SISTER: “THEY JUST TOOK HIM AWAY”

Around midnight, the 22-year-old man was in the shower when four members of the military arrived on motorbikes.

The man’s mother begged the soldiers not to take her son, saying he was young and innocent. But the soldiers said they would shoot the family if he didn’t go with them.

“They just took him away, and they told my mother that they would detain him for a while,” the man’s sister says.

The family spent the next day trying to find him. He had been taken to a military base. They sent food and clothing into the base, and soldiers told them he would be released in a few days — if the family gave them money.

The family worked to gather up funds. But the day before the young man was scheduled to be released, the military told the family that he had gotten a stomach ache and died in the hospital.

Soldiers brought the man’s parents to the cemetery, and showed them the smoke from the alleged cremation of his body. They never showed his parents his dead body.

“They just told our parents, ‘Look, we cremated him already.’ My parents only could see smoke from cremation and came back home,” the man’s sister says.

The family asked the military for a piece of one of the young man’s bones. They are convinced he was tortured to death by the military.

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