The Hamilton Spectator

Myanmar Military Tightens Chokehold


Thousands of innocent people killed. Tens of thousands more pro-democracy protesters locked up. The return of military rule has wreaked havoc in Myanmar in recent years.

Now the junta is growing increasing­ly brutal as a rebel uprising has gained ground.

It has put new effort into imprisonin­g dissidents and those who refuse to join its forces. And it is meting out increasing­ly lethal treatment to those in custody. In the first two months of the year, over 100 prisoners perished, either from torture or neglect, human rights groups and former detainees say. Conditions in military-run prisons have deteriorat­ed, they say, with prisoners being deprived of food, proper sanitation and health care, and facing torture.

“Since November, conditions have been getting worse and worse,” said Myar Reh, a pro-democracy student activist who was released from a prison in Karenni State in January after being held for nearly three years. “They punched me in the face, hit me with the butt of the gun. My whole body was covered in blood. They also threatened to shoot me in the head, and shot live rounds beside my head.”

General Zaw Min Tun, the military spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.

In February, the military announced a mandatory draft, in a sign it was on the defensive. That order could be used as a pretext by the military to launch a new campaign of arrests because anyone resisting conscripti­on faces up to five years in prison.

The junta has said that it will start clearing out prisons, releasing thousands of detainees. But any such freedom is likely to be temporary: Rights groups point out that last year, the junta made similar “amnesties,” but soon went on to rearrest many of those released.

One rights group, Myanmar Witness, said it had studied satellite photograph­s that suggested that whole new prison complexes were being built, and that new buildings were going up near existing prisons.

For those who remain in the military’s hands, detention can be lethal. Nearly 120 dissidents died in the military’s custody in January and February, according to the Assistance Associatio­n for Political Prisoners (Burma). That

Prison conditions deteriorat­e amid a rebel uprising.

compares with 602 similar fatalities last year.

Since the coup in February 2021, over 1,500 people have died in the junta’s detention, the group said. The current regime, it said, has tortured dozens of detainees to death. It estimates more than 20,000 people remain in the junta’s custody, while the civilian death toll has surpassed 4,500.

In November, the rebels attacked military positions in Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State, taking large sections of the city. Some junta troops retreated to a prison complex.

The conflict presents a new danger to detainees. U Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of A.A.P.P., said: “Political prisoners feel like they are hostages or human shields, used by the military at the cost of their lives.”

 ?? NYEIN CHAN NAING/EPA, VIA SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? A bus of detainees leaving a prison in Yangon, Myanmar, in January. Amnesties are likely temporary, rights groups say.
NYEIN CHAN NAING/EPA, VIA SHUTTERSTO­CK A bus of detainees leaving a prison in Yangon, Myanmar, in January. Amnesties are likely temporary, rights groups say.

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