San Francisco Chronicle
Young protesters disappearing in junta detentions
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Myanmar’s security forces moved in and the street lamps went black. In house after house, people shut off their lights.
Huddled inside her home in Yangon, 19yearold Shwe dared to peek out her window. A flashlight shone back, and a man’s voice ordered her not to look.
Two gunshots rang out. Then a man’s scream: “HELP!” When the military’s trucks finally rolled away, Shwe and her family emerged to look for her 15yearold brother.
“I could feel my blood thumping,” she says. “I had a feeling that he might be taken.”
Across the country, Myanmar’s security forces are arresting and forcibly disappearing thousands of people, especially boys and young men, in a sweeping bid to crush a threemonth uprising against a military takeover. In most cases, the families of those taken don’t know where they are, according to an Associated Press analysis of more than 3,500 arrests since February. UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, is aware of around 1,000 cases of children or young people who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, many without access to lawyers or their families.
It is a technique the military has long used to instill fear and crush prodemocracy movements. The boys and young men are taken from homes, businesses and streets. Some end up dead. Many are imprisoned and sometimes tortured. Many more are missing.
“We’ve definitely moved into a situation of mass enforced disappearances,” says Matthew Smith, cofounder of the human rights group Fortify Rights, which has collected evidence of detainees being killed in custody. “We’re documenting and seeing widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests.”
The AP is withholding Shwe’s full name to protect her from retaliation by the military.
The autobody shop in Shwe’s neighborhood was a regular hangout for local boys.
On the night of March 21, her brother had gone there to chill out like he usually did.
As Shwe approached the shop, she saw it had been ransacked and her brother was gone. The floor was covered in blood.
Ever since Myanmar’s military seized control in February, faces of the missing have flooded the internet. Recently, photos of young people detained by security forces also have begun circulating online and on militarycontrolled television, their faces bloodied, with clear markings of beatings and possible torture.
At least 3,500 people have been detained since the military takeover began, more than threequarters of whom are male, according to an analysis of data collected by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors deaths and arrests. Of the 419 men whose ages were recorded in the group’s database, nearly twothirds are under age 30, and 78 are teenagers.
Nearly 2,700 of the detainees are being held at undisclosed locations, an AAPP spokesman said.