Released American journalist says Myanmar military using torture to hunt down opposition leaders

Nathan Maung, 44, was detained for more than three months in Myanmar before being deported to the United States on June 15. During that time, he said he endured two weeks in a secretive military-run interrogation center in the country’s biggest city Yangon.
Speaking to CNN Business on Wednesday from Washington, DC, Nathan Maung described his time in the facility as “hell” and said he prepared himself to die there, believing the soldiers would kill him.
He is one of more than 6,200 people arrested since Myanmar’s military, led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, seized power in a coup on February 1, according to advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and embarked on a bloody crackdown on dissent and on any perceived opposition to its rule. Mass street protests have been suppressed with deadly force.
Former inmates, lawyers and family members of those held have previously told CNN the detainees have been subjected to torture during interrogation and held out of contact from loved ones. Some — including members of the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) Party — have died while in custody, their bodies showing signs of brutal torture.
CNN Business has reached out to Myanmar’s military for comment.
Nathan Maung was detained in Myanmar for more than three months.

Despite months of escalating violence, the junta has said it is using restraint against what it called “riotous protesters,” who it accuses of attacking police and harming national security and stability.
Nathan Maung is co-founder and editor in chief of the Myanmar online news site Kamayut Media. He was arrested on March 9 alongside co-founder and news producer Hanthar Nyein, 39, as security forces raided their office.
Though now living in the United States, Nathan Maung said he is “not happy” and feels an overwhelming guilt he was released because of his American citizenship, while his friend and colleague Hanthar Nyein, a Myanmar national, remains incarcerated in the notorious Insein Prison.
“We’ve been through the hell together. So, we should be released together,” Nathan Maung said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I really want him to know that we are not forgetting him. He’s not alone.”
Danny Fenster, another American journalist who was prevented from boarding a flight out of Myanmar on May 24, remains in detention, also in Insein Prison.

Weeks of ‘hell’

Nathan Maung knew something was wrong when a convoy of military trucks full of soldiers pulled up outside Kamayut Media’s office in Yangon. Security forces barged through the door and raided the office, seizing equipment and taking Nathan Maung and Hanthar Nyein with them as they left.
“They sent us to the interrogation center in Mingaladon,” he said, referring to a suburb of Yangon.
There, Nathan Maung said they were beaten, denied water for two days and food for three. They were handcuffed and blindfolded nearly the entire two weeks they were there, he said.
“They started with a blindfold and handcuffs and then started questioning. They kicked our face, hands and shoulder, all the time. For every answer, they beat us. Whatever we answered — whether correctly or incorrectly — they beat us. For three days, non-stop,” he said.
Nathan Maung said the facility had five houses and one big office. Within the buildings, he said, there were four interrogation cells. He said his blindfold was removed on his final day there so he got a look at the room and the buildings.
“In the room there is a CCTV camera, there’s no bed, only a small table and a chair so you sit all day and night,” he said. “You are blindfolded and there is no time to sleep. They won’t let you. They put the handcuffs in front so you can try and sleep like that, but every five minutes they show up and start the questioning.”
This torture carried on for eight days, during which the detainees would be moved between the houses and cells.
His colleague Hanthar Nyein bore the brunt of the torture, Nathan Maung said.
“Hanthar was badly treated because he was Burmese national. He had to kneel down on the ground for like two days. His skin was burnt with a cigarette,” he said.
Nathan Maung believes the soldiers were pressuring Hanthar Nyein to hand over his phone password, which would give them access to his encrypted communications and phone records with high profile opposition and activist leaders.
For days, Hanthar Nyein held out from revealing the password, offering them false numbers in the hope his phone would automatically lock anyone out of using it. But the final straw came when the guards threatened to rape him.
“Hanthar couldn’t stand for this and so he surrendered his password and they stopped beating,” Nathan Maung said.
Nathan Maung’s phone broke during the arrest. The beatings stopped for him on the fourth day, he said, when the soldiers discovered he was a US citizen.
“They stopped beating me and started asking questions about why the US government sent me and were giving me US funding, if I was working for the CIA — those kind of stupid questions,” he said. “I said no, I’m a journalist, no one gave me money.”
So, the line of interrogation focused instead on his media company Kamayut Media. He said the soldiers asked about budgets and finances. “They are looking for any fundraising or where we got it,” he said.
Journalists Nathan Maung and Hanthar Nyein in Myanmar.

Nathan Maung believed he would die in the interrogation cell.
“I thought, if we survived for two days at the beginning, we’ll be alive … but after that then nobody knows,” he said. “When they started giving us drinking water I thought, OK, we won’t die, we’ll live.”
Nathan Maung said he meditated to help get through the mental and physical trauma. “That’s the only thing that saved us from the hell,” he said.
But his ordeal was not over.
After 15 days, Nathan Maung said he was transferred to a detention center adjoining Myanmar’s Insein Prison, an overcrowded penitentiary of about 10,000 inmates that has a reputation for ill-treatment and terrible conditions. For two more weeks, he was kept in a large cell with about 80 other people — all student activists, protesters, and NLD members, he said. Then he was moved to solitary confinement, where he stayed until his release on June 14.

Stopping the junta’s violence

Nathan Maung and Hanthar Nyein’s treatment in detention are not isolated incidents.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch reported that many of the thousands of people arbitrarily detained by the military have been subjected to torture, routine beatings and other ill-treatment since the coup.
“Myanmar’s military and police often hold detainees in custody for extended periods, in overcrowded and unhygienic interrogation centers and prisons. Those detained are frequently kept incommunicado, unable to contact relatives or legal counsel,” the organization wrote in the report. It added the victims “described beatings, burnings from lit cigarettes, prolonged stress positions, and gender-based violence.”
Manny Maung, HRW’s Myanmar researcher and no relation to Nathan Maung, said in a statement that since the coup, authorities have been using torture “without fear of repercussions.”
“The sheer brutality of the beatings and abuse shows the lengths to which Myanmar’s military authorities are going to silence anyone opposing the coup,” she said.
Nathan Maung said he believes he was arrested because the military saw him “as an enemy.”
He was one of at least 88 journalists arrested since the military takeover as part of a crackdown on independent media. Many media workers have been forced into exile abroad or have fled to rebel-controlled areas in the jungles. Those who remain in the cities have gone into hiding, and swap safe houses every few days to avoid arrest.
“They tortured me because I believe in democracy and human rights and freedom of expression,” Nathan Maung said.
The military junta has struggled to consolidate its power over the whole country, as it continues to face mass public opposition. Large-scale nationwide protests seen in the months following the takeover were brutally suppressed. In their place, local militia groups have formed to defend towns and villages from military violence and battles between junta forces and armed resistance groups are being waged on multiple fronts around the country.
“Civil war is happening now, it’s already a failed state,” Nathan Maung said.
Nathan Maung said the international community cannot stand by while the junta continues to operate with impunity and lawlessness against its people and called for “aggressive action” against the military.
“We don’t have time to wait and see. There are thousands refugees going to flee to the border, a humanitarian crisis happening now,” he said.
Standing in a park, surrounded by beech trees in Washington, DC — thousands of miles away from the cells, the torture, and the violence — Nathan Maung feels torn, but says he plans to return to Asia and base himself in neighboring Thailand to continue fighting for a democratic Myanmar.
“Sometimes, I dream I really went back to prison, because my body is here but my mind is with my friends, my journalists, my country,” he said.
“All my life, I have been working for a free Burma, as citizen and as a journalist. Until I die, I have to work for that. I have to take care of my people. They deserve democracy and human rights,” he said.
— Caitlin Hu contributed to this report.

Stop Torture (Torture in Burma)

A five-part video documentary by AJAR and its partners on torture in Burma




International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

The Burma Military’s use of torture is an international crime – it must be stopped!

26th June 2021

On this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we call for an immediate end to the brutal torture of civilians in Burma, and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.

To mark this important day, we created a video series called “Stop Torture”, showing how the Burma military is using various forms of torture against its own people following the 1 February coup. The video links are available on AJAR’s YouTube channel (click here) and on the website/Facebook pages of AAPP, ND-Burma and Women’s League of Burma.

The post-coup repression shows how the Burma military will not shy away from using its decades-old patterns of cruel treatment of civilians in a widespread manner, as a mean to terrorize and subjugate the population into obedience.

While people all over the country continue to defy the military junta through courageous acts of resistance, mostly peacefully, security forces respond with ruthless and nasty force. At least 880 people, including children and youth, have been killed by security forces since the coup. Almost 6,300 have been arrested, with 5,104 currently in detention as of June 24th, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The crackdown targets any perceived opponent to the coup, including politicians, peaceful protesters, journalists, celebrities, striking workers, and even children and bystanders. Many of those arrested are subject to various forms of torture and ill treatment.

There are reports of widespread and systematic mistreatment in detention, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and being denied the use of a bathroom. During interrogation, detainees are being blindfolded with their hands tied behind them and forced to kneel on a concrete floor or to lie on their belly, and then beaten repeatedly with the goal to extract information or forced confessions. Some report being beaten with dangerous objects such as cables, the butts of guns, and glass bottles. Particularly concerning is the differential treatment of women during interrogation and detention, in the form of sexual and gender-based violence, sexism and misogyny. There are reports of sexual abuses behind bars, including beatings on genitals and sexual threats.

Some detainees do not survive. Civilians arrested after being shot by security forces are often denied medical treatment and subsequently die from their injuries. There are reports of people tortured to deaths in custody, their bodies returned to their families with a fabricated story as to the cause of death, but with obvious signs of torture and mutilation. Some bear the marks of organs removal. Others are returned to their families alive, only to die a few hours later from their injuries.  The AAPP has accounted for at least 24 of such deaths following torture.

These vicious tactics employed by the Burma military are meant to install fear among the public and create an environment of terror, in order to suppress popular resistance to the coup and maintain their control over the country. The use of torture, however, is not new to the recent political developments. As long documented by civil society groups, torture has always been commonplace during interrogation and imprisonment in Burma. This included also mistreatment of LGBTIQ people in police detention. In ethnic areas, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were used against civilians to obtain information or confessions regarding the activities of ethnic armed organizations, or as punishment for perceived sympathy for the Tatmadaw’s opponents.

In its reports to the United Nations, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (“FFM”) concluded that “the manner in which torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, occurred often indicated the dehumanisation of ethnic minorities in Kachin and Shan States, with Tatmadaw soldiers verbally denigrating their religions and ethnicities”. Indeed, the FFM found that the targeting of civilians, including through torture and ill-treatment, was a hallmark of Tatmadaw operations in at least Rakhine, Kachin and Northern Shan States.

Torture has profound, long-lasting consequences for survivors and their families. While they struggle with physical injuries, psychological trauma, social exclusion and economic hardships, access to basic support services is largely lacking in Burma, in particular in the current context. Torture survivors and their families require access to health and medical care, psycho-social support, legal assistance and livelihood opportunities. Plans need to be made to address their immediate as well as long-term needs, which should also include acknowledgement of survivors’ experience and efforts to ensure non-repetition.

The use of torture by security forces is a violation of international law, as well as Myanmar domestic laws. In some circumstances, torture can be considered a crime against humanity when it is part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population. As we have repeatedly stated in the past, decades of impunity have emboldened the Burma military to continue perpetrating these heinous crimes without any accountability. This must stop. The time for justice has come. The Burma military must immediately end violence against civilians and bring perpetrators of torture to justice.

We therefore make the following recommendations:

To the international community:

  • Do not recognize the junta’s State Administration Council (SAC) and put pressure on the Burma military to immediately end violence against civilians and respect the Geneva Conventions
  • Make a referral of the Burma situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC)
  • Strengthen the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM)
  • Establish a coordinated arms embargo against Myanmar
  • Issue further targeted sanctions against the Burma military’s businesses
  • Participate in providing acknowledgment and recognition to victims of torture
  • Support victims of torture and their families, including human rights defenders, through programs aimed at providing material, medical and psycho-social assistance, in order to address both immediate and long-term needs
  • Provide cross-border humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by the violence

To the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN):

  • Issue a timeframe for the implementation of its “five-point consensus” on Burma and hold the Burma military accountable to it in an effective and transparent manner
  • Call for the immediate release of political prisoners
  • Support the establishment of an arms embargo by the international community

To the National Unity Government (NUG):

  • Document the use of torture by security forces
  • Cooperate with the IIMM
  • Commit to bringing perpetrators to justice, including by acceding to the ICC Rome Statute and making a declaration accepting ICC jurisdiction for past crimes
  • Commit to signing and ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT)
  • Commit to preventing torture by providing awareness trainings to security forces under NUG’s authority
  • Commit to establishing meaningful transitional justice mechanisms to address victim’s rights to truth and reparations, in particular rehabilitation programs for survivors

  1. Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR)
  2. Women’s League of Burma (WLB)
  3. Network for Human Rights Documentation Burma (ND-Burma)
  4. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)
  5. All Arakan Student’s and Youth Congress (AASYC)
  6. Ta’ang Civil Society Organization (TCSO)
  7. Burma Civil War Museum (BCM)
  8. Union Of Karenni State Youth (UKSY)


Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia

Four protesters and at least two officers were killed as Myanmar soldiers battled an anti-junta civilian militia with small arms and grenades in the country’s second city Tuesday, authorities and military sources said.

Fighting has flared across Myanmar since the February coup as people form “defence forces” to battle a brutal military crackdown on dissent, but clashes have largely been restricted to rural areas.

Acting on a tip-off, security forces raided a house in Mandalay’s Chan Mya Tharsi township on Tuesday morning, the junta’s information team said in a statement, and were met with small arms fire and grenades.

Two officers were killed during the raid, military sources told AFP, and at least ten were wounded.

Four “terrorists” were killed and eight arrested in possession of homemade mines, hand grenades and small arms, a junta spokesman said in a statement.

“We could hear artillery shooting even though our house is far from that place,” a Mandalay resident told AFP.

Another four members of the self-defence group were killed when the car they were attempting to flee in crashed, the spokesman said, without providing details.

The United States’ embassy in Yangon said on Twitter it was “tracking reports of ongoing fighting in Mandalay… We are disturbed by the military escalation and urgently call for a cessation of violence.”

The mass uprising against the military putsch that toppled the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has been met with a brutal crackdown that has killed more than 870 civilians, according to a local monitoring group.

As well as the rise of local self-defence forces, analysts believe hundreds of anti-coup protesters from Myanmar’s towns and cities have trekked into insurgent-held areas to receive military training.

But part-time fighters know the odds are stacked against them in any confrontation with Myanmar’s military — one of Southeast Asia’s most battle-hardened and brutal.


Leader of resistance force in Magwe Region shot dead

Former student activist Kyaw San Oo was shot in the head at close range when he wasn’t able to flee police following a shootout

A leader of a resistance group based in Magwe Region’s Gangaw Township was killed during a clash with regime forces on Sunday, according to family members.

Kyaw San Oo, a 24-year-old former member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), was shot dead during the clash near the village of Bawpyin in Gangaw.

“We were told that he was fatally shot in the head after getting injured in the thigh. When he was no longer able to run due to his injury, a member of the regime’s police force shot him in the temple at close range,” said a relative of Kyaw San Oo.

Regime forces attacked the Gangaw People’s Defence Force (PDF) after their location was revealed by an informant. Two PDF fighters, including Kyaw San Oo, and two regime troops were killed in the shootout, according to Gangaw locals.

Regime police took the body of Kyaw San Oo after the clash and told his family on Monday afternoon to retrieve it from the Gangaw Hospital, the relative said.

“We had to go get his body right away and had it cremated at around 4pm at a village cemetery,” he added.

Further information about the other person killed in the clash was not available at the time of reporting.

Executing an injured enemy at close range violates the code of conduct for soldiers, said army defector Tun Myat Aung, who was a captain before leaving the military.

“We can’t kill prisoners of war and detainees. It’s part of the code of ethics for soldiers regarding treatment of their enemies,” he said.

The regime has not released a statement regarding the clash or the death of Kyaw San Oo.

Kyaw San Oo was an active member of the Pakokku University Student Union and participated in the ABFSU’s activities from 2012 to 2019, said Min Htet Myat, who is also a student activist from Meikhtila.

“He regularly led the organisation’s activities. He did many things for the Gangaw region even after he finished university,” Min Htet Myat told Myanmar Now.

“It is such a great loss of a comrade and a good friend. I am really sorry that he died halfway through the journey, even though he could do so much more,” he added.

Kyaw San Oo’s family said they were proud of him and his firm political stance.

“We wish 10 more people like him could emerge even though he was killed,” said one relative.

According to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 875 people have been killed by regime forces since the military seized power in a coup on February 1.

The vast majority have been unarmed protesters and bystanders killed in crackdowns and raids.

Myanmar Now News

UPDATED: Two Civilian Fighters Killed Amid Shootout With Myanmar Junta Troops in Mandalay

By THE IRRAWADDY 22 June 2021

A Mandalay civilian resistance group fighting against the military regime said two of its members were killed and six arrested by junta troops following a raid on one of the group’s bases on Tuesday morning.

Fighting broke out between the People’s Defense Force Mandalay (Mdy PDF) and the troops during the raid in the city’s Chanmyathazi Township.

On Tuesday afternoon, military-run Myawady TV said eight PDF fighters were killed and eight arrested during the shootout, while some junta troops were seriously injured.

However, the person in charge of the Mandalay PDF’s urban guerrilla warfare unit, who uses the pseudonym Bo Tun Tauk Naing, told The Irrawaddy that only two resistance fighters were killed.

“Among the six arrested are civil servants on strike and students. Some weapons were also seized,” he said.

Junta troops reportedly raided a boarding school where PDF fighters were based in Hton Tone ward at around 7.30 a.m.

“They sniffed us out. They came to our base at between 111st and 112nd streets on 54th Street and we shot at them as they came,” Bo Tun Tauk Naing said.

PDF fighters attempted to withdraw from the base as their colleagues from other parts of the town rushed to rescue them.

Junta forces used grenades in the fighting, the PDF said. Junta troops also used snipers and armored vehicles in the clash.

“Junta troops arrived around 7 a.m. and opened fire at 111st and 54th streets. It was not heavy shooting. Then there was an exchange of fire between 8 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. So far, junta troops have not yet raided houses. But they are detaining every man on sight,” a resident of Hton Tone Ward said in the morning while the clash was still going on.

He said he heard the sounds of machine guns and grenades. Locals stayed indoors during the shootout, he said.

Following the fighting, the US and Canadian embassies in Yangon on Tuesday called for a cessation of violence and for the protection of civilians, saying they were disturbed and concerned by the fighting in Mandalay.

The Mandalay PDF was formed by local resistance fighters who underwent military training provided by ethnic armed groups. They operate under the parallel National Unity Government.

The story was updated on Tuesday afternoon to reflect the latest situation.

Irrawaddy News