JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Soldiers in rural Myanmar twisted the young man’s skin with tweezers and kicked him in the chest until he couldn’t breathe. Then they made fun of him for his family until his heart ached too: “Your mom,” they made fun of, “she can’t save you anymore.”
The young man and his friend, randomly arrested while cycling home, had been subjected to hours of agony inside a town hall transformed by the military into a torture center.
“I’m going to die,” the young man said to himself, as the stars exploded before his eyes. “I love you mom.'”
Since taking office in February, Myanmar’s military has been methodically and systemically torturing detainees across the country, The Associated Press found in interviews with 28 people imprisoned and released in recent months.
Also based on photographic evidence, sketches, and letters, along with testimony from two military captains and an aide to a high-ranking commander, the AP investigation provides the most comprehensive look since the inauguration of a secret detention system that has withheld more than 9,000 people. .
While most of the torture has occurred inside military compounds, the army, known as the Tatmadaw, has also transformed public facilities such as community halls into interrogation centers, the prisoners said. The AP identified a dozen interrogation centers in use across Myanmar, as well as prisons and police cells.
The prisoners interviewed came from all corners of the country, ranging from a 16-year-old girl to monks. Some were arrested for protesting against the military, others for no apparent reason. Various military units and police participated in the interrogations, and their torture methods were similar throughout Myanmar.
Myanmar’s military has a long history of torture, particularly before the country began the transition to democracy in 2010. While torture in recent years was reported more frequently in ethnic regions, its use has now returned throughout. the country, according to the AP investigation. The vast majority of torture techniques described by prisoners were similar to those of the past, including electric shocks, near-drowning, and relentless beatings.
But this time, the torture is the worst ever in scale and severity, according to the Political Prisoner Assistance Association, which monitors deaths and arrests. Since February, the group says, security forces have killed more than 1,200 people, including at least 131 detainees tortured to death.
“The army tortures detainees, first for revenge, then for information,” says Ko Bo Kyi, deputy secretary of the AAPP and former political prisoner. “I think that, in many ways, the military has become even more brutal.”
The army has also taken steps to conceal evidence that it has tortured prisoners, with several prisoners claiming that interrogators brutalized only the parts of their bodies that could be hidden by clothing. An aide to the highest-ranking army officer 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 reports from the autopsy.
A former army captain who defected from the Tatmadaw in April confirmed to the AP that the use of torture by the military against detainees has been rampant since his inauguration.
“In our country, after being unjustly arrested, there is constant torture, violence and sexual assault,” says Lin Htet Aung, the former captain.
After receiving detailed requests for comment, military officials responded with a one-line email that read, “We have no plans to answer these nonsensical questions.”
All but six of the prisoners interviewed by the AP were subjected to abuse, including women and children. Most of those who were not abused said that their fellow detainees were. The AP also sent photos of the injuries of several torture victims to a Physicians for Human Rights forensic pathologist. The pathologist concluded that the wounds of three victims coincided with blows with sticks or rods.
“You look at some of those lesions where they’re just black and blue from one end to the other,” says forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas. “This was not just a hit. This has the appearance of something very systematic and forceful. “
Photographs taken inside various detention and interrogation facilities confirmed the prisoners’ accounts of overcrowded and dirty conditions. Most of the inmates slept on concrete floors, packed like sardines. Some got sick from drinking dirty water that was only available in a shared bathroom. Cockroaches swarmed their bodies at night. There was little or no medical treatment.
Not even the young people have been spared. A woman was imprisoned with a 2-year-old baby. Interrogation centers were worse than prisons, with nights of cacophony of crying and wailing of agony.
“It was scary, my room,” recalls one man. “There were blood stains and scratches on the wall.”
Back inside the rural town hall, the young man and his friend survived the night in a haze of pain. When dawn came, the interrogators sent them to prison. His small cell housed 33 people. They lay down by the toilet squatting alone. His fellow inmates shared water and cookies, although the young man’s mouth was too shattered to eat.
After two days, the families of the young man and his friend paid the officials to get them out of jail. Both men were forced to sign statements saying that they had participated in a demonstration and were against the police.
For two months, his whole body ached. Even today, his right shoulder, trampled on by a soldier, does not move properly.
“After they caught us, I know their hearts and minds were not like other people’s, nor like us,” he says. “They are monsters.”