Lawyers in Myanmar say situation becoming ‘very VERY difficult’ as regime steps up arrests and harassment.
Myanmar security forces punched, slapped and beat a US journalist and kept him blindfolded for more than a week of interrogation, he said after being deported to the United States following three months in detention.
Nathan Maung, 44, editor in chief of the online news platform Kamayut Media, was detained on March 9 in a raid and freed on June 15. His colleague Hanthar Nyein, who remains in detention, had been tortured more harshly, as had other people he met in prison, Maung said.
“They kicked our face, hands and shoulder, all the time,” Maung, who was born in Myanmar, told CNN. “For every answer, they beat us. Whatever we answered — whether correctly or incorrectly — they beat us. For three days, nonstop.”
A military spokesman did not respond to a request by the Reuters news agency for comment on the account by Maung, which echoes those of some of the thousands of others who have been detained since the army overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
Myanmar’s military has said detainees are being treated in accordance with the law, but as the military struggles to consolidate control over a country in revolt, it has arrested journalists and begun to target lawyers defending political prisoners.
Security forces in Myanmar have arbitrarily detained thousands who rebelled against the military coup in February and subjected many to torture, beatings and ill-treatment, according to a June 22 report by Human Rights Watch.
“The first three to four days were the worst,” Maung told Reuters in a telephone interview from Virginia.
“I was punched and slapped several times. No matter what I said, they just beat me. They used both their hands to slap my eardrums many times. They punched my cheekbones on both sides. They punched my shoulders. I was not allowed to stand up. My legs were swollen. I could not move any more,” he said.
Maung, who was born in Myanmar and fled to the US as a refugee in the 1990s, said he was seized at Kamayut Media’s office and was taken for questioning about his publication, his role there and how it operates.
“They handcuffed my hands behind my back, tied my eyes with a cloth and covered that with another cloth,” he said.
“They did not allow me to sleep for about three or four days. Nonstop interrogation. There was no time to sleep,” he said. He said the beatings diminished on the fourth day, after they discovered he was a US citizen.
“On the eighth day, a colonel came, he removed the cloth blindfolding me,” Maung said.
Some ‘experienced worse torture’
Maung was met by US officials after his release and they assisted him and his family, the US embassy said.
It expressed its continuing deep concern over the detention of US journalist Danny Fenster, who was detained more than a month ago and who was allowed to speak to the US embassy for the first time last week, according to Fenster’s brother.
Maung said the colonel had recorded his testimony and asked if he had any statement to make – to which the editor requested that his human rights be respected and that he have a lawyer to defend him against any charges.
The colonel had told him that he was not charged with any crime and that he would be freed when the situation had calmed down, Maung said.
During his detention, Maung said he had met other people who had been mistreated and heard people shouting, begging and screaming from other buildings.
“Some people experienced worse torture than us. There was someone together with me in a room for two days. His body was covered in bruises and injuries. They put his handcuffed hands on the table and beat his hand.
“The bones were not broken, but he was badly injured and his skin was ripped off.”
Kamayut Media stopped publication after his arrest, but Maung said he planned to resume his work.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says more than 6,000 people have been charged or sentenced after being detained since the coup. Security forces have killed at least 883 people since then. The military disputes the figure.