Burmese Detainees Describe Abuses

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Monks and nuns from the country's revered monasteries led the protests which began in Burma in mid-August, sparked by a rise in fuel prices. Photo: AFP

BANGKOK—Three demonstrators detained in the recent military crackdown in Burma have described numerous abuses by authorities charged with quelling the protests, including mock suffocation, sleep deprivation, beatings, solitary confinement, and medical neglect. In one instance, a military truck is said to have killed two people when it plowed without warning into a crowd.

A woman who was arrested Sept. 27 and released Sept. 30 in Rangoon said a military truck veered into a crowd of demonstrators in front of Tamwe State High School No. 3 at around 3 p.m. Sept. 27, killing two people.

“The military truck entered the crowd while shooting at the same time. Of course, everyone ran away. My friends... said they saw two people get killed because they got run down by the truck,” the woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They put a thin plastic bag on my head three times. I nearly suffocated. After that they would continue the interrogation.

“When they shot at us, as soon as they got off the truck, they said, “Shoot them! Shoot them! Shoot them to death! Surround those guys! Shoot them!’ We were hiding. They chased us and also shot at windows. There were sounds of shattering windows and gunshots. It was as if the world was coming to an end. They never asked the crowd to disperse,” she said.

“As soon as they were done shooting, they hit everyone. ‘These sluts, they want to be everywhere. Because of you, we have to be working!’ They hit all the girls. They hit them, caught them, and made them lie face-down on the ground."

“They even checked the things of those who were already lying face-down. If there was anyone on whom they found some documents, they’d step on their heads with their boots. They’d say, ‘What? Are you looking at me? What? Are you unhappy with what we’re doing?’”

Heads were bleeding

The authorities loaded some 160 people onto trucks and drove them to a large walled, suburban compound known as the Kyaikkasan Grounds, for questioning. Those injured on the crackdown were kept on the truck for roughly two hours, the woman said.

“Many girls got injured on their heads and were bleeding. When we got to Kyaikkasan Grounds, even though we were at the interrogation center, we were not allowed to get off the truck. We were just left on the truck. We didn’t receive any treatment. Many people were soaking wet in blood…We were just left like that.”

“We were allowed to get off the truck only around 7 p.m. Only after arriving in various wards, only after 8 p.m., did we get treatment for our injuries. Those who got injured on their heads and those who were bleeding were given priority. Those who got bruises and scratches were not treated.”

“Around 2 a.m. [Sept. 28], we were moved to the GTC,” she said, referring to the defunct Government Technical College, which now functions as a detention center.

'All kinds of people were there'

“When we got to the GTC, as soon as we got off the truck, they said, ‘You sluts, bend down. If you don’t, we’ll crack your heads. Don’t look.’ It was around 2 a.m. We couldn’t see anything. We bowed our heads because they told us to do so,” she said, adding that all 160 detainees were kept on a cement floor, sharing a single window.

“With body odor and all, people were very smelly and dirty. They came and gave us water but it wasn’t enough for 160 people. We couldn’t wash our faces or hands. So we had to remain dirty. There were children from the monasteries. Even a six-year-old child got beaten—the child developed a fever, and would startle and cry at night. It was really sad. There were old ladies as well.”

“Most of those who were brought there…had bumps on the heads and swollen eyes. The girls were at the monasteries to take their exams. They [the authorities] accused the girls of having affairs with the monks and swore at them. They beat the monks with force and the girls were also beaten. When they detained people, they didn’t keep the monks and the girls separately but kept them together.”

“There was a daughter of a police station chief, there were wives and children of policemen, and aunts of captains. All kinds of people were there. People from all classes were there. They went to the train station to buy their tickets. While there, they closed all the train tracks and detained people and so they got caught. They brought along the goods that they were selling, along with the trays and boxes. They [soldiers] took away their necklaces and watches.”

At the GTC, monks were disrobed and beaten, she said. “They were beating them all the time. They were beating them for no reasons. They said, ‘Bow your heads. Bend down. Go, go. Don’t look around.’"

"Around 1 or 2 a.m. they would start interrogating. They said, ‘Tell me your father’s name. Tell me your mother’s name.’” ‘I heard, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. Kill, kill, kill, kill! Kill them dead. Kill them dead!’ They shot. They really shot at people. They really beat people. We saw all of these things. I can’t forget these sounds. The things I saw will not disappear from my mind for the rest of my life.”

Most of those who were brought there…had bumps on the heads and swollen eyes.

Monks in custody

U Than Pe, vice chairman of the opposition National League for Democracy in Arakan [Rakhine] state, was arrested Sept. 28 and released Oct. 24, he said. On Sept. 25 and 28, he said, citizens marched with about 200 monks, 20 nuns, and 40,000 to 50,000 people in Arakan’s Taungup [Taunggok] town.

On Sept. 28, U Than Pe said, he and others were taken to the Ma Ya Ka, or Township Peace and Development Council. “There they took our pictures. They didn’t interrogate much. They took our biographical information. After that, they sent us to Battalion 36. It’s a big battalion. It’s only a little over a mile from us, the town of Taunggok.”

“Then we were sent to the town of Ahn with two captains and one unit from Battalion 36. It wasn’t all of us who got sent. It was myself and a township organization member, Ko Tun Kyi, the two of us. Before they took us, they said it wasn’t enough to put us in handcuffs and tied me up on the back with a rope, and a soldier from Battalion 36 hit us. It wasn’t with force. He said, ‘Here, for wanting to participate in politics.’"

“We got to Ahn around 8:30 a.m....and we were put in a cell. Only around 4:30 p.m. did they bring us out. The Sa-Ya-Pa group [Military Security Committee], about eight of them, interrogated us from around 4:30 p.m. and only around 9 a.m. the next morning did we get some time to rest. All night, we were not able to sleep.”

“They said, ‘Didn’t you do that? Weren’t you the leader?’ The next day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I lost two nights of sleep, so I felt dizzy and fell from the chair. I had cuts on my chest. The next day, a woman doctor came and measured my blood pressure—it was 105 over 85 so it was still OK. So they kept interrogating us that way,” U Than Pe said.

“They put us on that chair. They made us sit there all night. Then they asked this and that…They put a thin plastic bag on my head three times. I nearly suffocated. After that they would continue the interrogation."

"On the fourth day, they no longer used the plastic bag. They were torturing us, depriving us of sleep, day and night. They thought I wasn’t telling the truth. They didn’t use their hands but they kicked me with their legs. I suffered greatly,” U Than Pe said.

Solitary confinement

The NLD party chairman for Sangyaung township, U Thet Wai, was arrested Sept. 29 and held first at Pyinmabin Police Interrogation Center, north of Rangoon, and then sent with 27 other NLD members to Insein Prison in Rangoon on Oct. 9. He was released Oct. 25.

U Thet Wai described seeing monks de-robed and forced to work as janitors in the prison. When U Thet Wai challenged his jailers over the practice, which he says violates Burma’s criminal code, he was sent to solitary confinement for 17 days.

U Thet Wai said he saw about 20 monks in the prison, including some who came with injuries from interrogation centers. Some, including the Abbot from Ngwe Kyaryan Monastery, were in their 70s, he said.

Another man at Insein, Ko Soe Myint from Pabedan township in Rangoon, was forced to kneel down on crushed bricks when he was at the interrogation center and he had punch marks on his body. The man believed he received harsher treatment because he was Muslim.

All NLD members were handcuffed behind their backs with their heads bowed during transport to Insein. If they glanced around, the guards would hit them with their rifle butts, he said.

U Thet Wai said he saw leaders of the 88 Generation Students movement, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeyar, Arnt Bwe Kyaw, Tun Tun Win, Ko Jimmy, and Pandeit Tun. Min Ko Naing was seen with his beard and moustache unshaved. Pandeit Tun was blistered from mosquito and bedbug bites. Inmates were poorly fed and barred from seeing their families.

Original reporting by Ko Nyo and May Pyone Aung for RFA’s Burmese service. Translation by Than Than Win and Khin Maung Nyane. Senior editors: Khin Maung Nyane and Khin May Zaw. Service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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