A man was tortured to death by Myanmar soldiers after he was arrested at a security checkpoint as he traveled from a village in volatile Rakhine state to have his motorbike repaired, members of his family said Thursday.
Myanmar troops have set up the security checkpoints along main roads in townships in northern Rakhine where forces have engaged in fierce fighting with the rebel Arakan Army (AA) for 16 months. They often stop civilians and question them to determine if they have any connections to the AA, which is seeking greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhines in the state.
Zaw Gyi from Lakesinpyin village was killed on Wednesday evening by troops from Light Infantry Battalion No. 377 in the suburbs of Mrauk-U town, they said.
“He went to town to get his motorbike repaired,” said Than Myint Htay, Zaw Gyi’s brother-in-law. “He was arrested at around 4 p.m. As soon as we heard that he had been arrested, we went to the soldiers, but they told me that he wasn’t there.”
On Thursday morning, his relatives were told to retrieve his corpse from a hospital where soldiers sent his badly bruised and injured body, they added.
“Someone called and told us that he saw Zaw Gyi was taken by soldiers,” said San Tun Phyu, the dead man’s father-in-law.
“We finally heard that his body was at the Mrauk-U mortuary,” he said, adding that Zaw Gyi had no ties to the AA.
“When anyone dies in military detention, they always say that that person had been arrested and interrogated because he had connections to the AA,” San Tun Phyu said. “The military always accuses people like this. Actually, he [Zaw Gyi] had no relations to the AA.”
Kyaw Kyaw, chairman of the Mrauk-U Free Funeral Service Society, said that the town’s police chief called him Thursday morning to notify him that someone had died at the battalion’s base and asked him to transport the body to the hospital.
“We went to Battalion No. 377 and transported the body to Mrauk-U Hospital,” he said. “When we went to the battalion, no one told us anything.”
A Mrauk-U resident who requested anonymity out of safety concerns told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the body was wrapped in a blanket that when unfolded revealed a corpse that was disfigured from torture wounds.
Zaw Gyi’s relatives said they were allowed to take the body back to the village where they will hold a funeral on Friday.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said he did not know whether a man being held by the battalion was Zaw Gyi.
“I know a man was under interrogation until last night because AA contacts and videos were found on his mobile phone,” he said. “I haven’t heard any update yet whether this man is dead or not. If this is the case, then we would order an inquest according to the law. If it is determined that he died during the interrogation, we will file legal action accordingly.”
At least 15 civilians have died while being held by the military for interrogations, according to victims' families.
The latest torture death occurred on the same day the U.N.’s outgoing envoy monitoring human rights in Myanmar called for an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the government army and its practice of targeting civilians.
“While the world is occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assault in Rakhine state, targeting the civilian population,” said Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
“The Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] is systematically violating the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights. Its conduct against the civilian population of Rakhine and Chin states may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Lee, who has been blocked by the government from visiting Myanmar for more than two years.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.