The father of a Myanmar high school student hospitalized in restive Rakhine state’s Kyauktaw township days after being detained for three hours by government soldiers said Tuesday that he is suing the military for allegedly brutally beating the boy, a move that prompted swift legal counteraction by the armed forces.
Soldiers from Myanmar Army Battalion 539 detained 17-year-old Zaw Naing Naing Htay from Kyauktaw’s Pyi Taw Thar ward at 4 p.m. on Feb. 21 and released him at 7 p.m. after he showed them proof that he was scheduled to take his 10th-grade examinations, the boy’s father Shwe Sein Oo told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Kyauktaw is one of several townships in Rakhine state where government soldiers have engaged in hostilities with the rebel Arakan Army (AA). Myanmar Army soldiers have been known to detain for questioning civilians whom they suspect of having a connection to the Arakan fighters.
It remains unclear, however, why the soldiers detained the boy, though residents of townships where hostilities have occurred say that government troops often take civilians by force and make them work as porters and guides.
“I was told that he was taken by soldiers from Battalion 539, and it looks like he was taken to serve them as a porter,” said Aung Tin Win, the administrator of Kyauktaw’s Ponna village. “But he was later released because he was able to show a document that proved he was sitting for the 10th-grade examinations.”
After Zaw Naing Naing Htay left the military compound by motorbike, he went to a friend’s house where he spent the night, said Shwe Sein Oo, who contends that his son was physically abused while he was with the Myanmar soldiers.
The family learned of the alleged beating the following day, and took the boy to Kyauktaw Hospital for medical treatment for mental illness. He was then transferred to Sittwe Hospital when his condition did not improve, Shwe Sein Oo said.
“His son was screaming, ‘The military is coming, the military and soldiers are coming,’” said Kyaw Hla Myint, a Kyauktaw resident who posted the incident on Facebook. “He couldn't speak properly, and two people had to hold him. His father told me what his son had said. I don’t think I have made any mistake. I believe they [the soldiers] did it intentionally.”
When the family filed a criminal case against some of the soldiers from the battalion, a captain from Battalion 375 filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Shwe Sein Oo and Kyaw Hla Myint under Section 505(b) of Myanmar’s Penal Code.
The section criminalizes the circulation of statements and reports with the intent to cause fear or alarm in the public. Violators face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
“My son is a student,” Schwe Sein Oo said. “He was unfairly beaten. That’s why I want to take legal action against those who committed this unlawful acts.”
RFA could not reach Kyauktaw’s police chief for comment.
‘Very irresponsible comment’
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun denied the allegation that soldiers had beaten Zaw Naing Naing Htay and blamed the incident on the AA.
“We’ve checked posts online, and they speculated that we detained for interrogation a 10th-grade student and that he can now barely speak,” he said.
“In fact, these were men from AA who had taken him and put the blame on the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military],” he said. “It turned out to be untrue after a thorough examination at the police station.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied that Arakan forces were involved in the incident.
“I have to say it was a very irresponsible comment,” he said. “The boy already had said who had taken him, and so did his father. So everyone knows what happened. The Myanmar military’s comment is disgraceful and very disappointing.”
RFA was unable to reach Zaw Naing Naing Htay for comment since his condition remains unstable.
Tun Tun Win, the physician who runs Sittwe Hospital, told RFA that the boy’s condition is not life-threatening, and medical treatment is being provided. But he refused to provide further details, which he said would require authorization from his superiors.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.