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Liberated American says Myanmar army uses torture to persecute opposition leaders

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Speaking to CNN Business Wednesday from Washington, DC, Nathan Maung described his stay at the facility as “hell” and said he was preparing to die there, believing the soldiers would kill him.

She is one of more than 6,200 people arrested since Myanmar’s army, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, seized power in a coup on February 1, according to the Prisoner Assistance Association. Politicians of the defending group. 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 his government. Mass protests in the street have been suppressed with deadly force.

CNN Business has contacted the Myanmar Army for comment.

Nathan Maung was detained in Myanmar for more than three months.

Despite months of escalating violence, the Board has said it uses restraint against what it called “rioting protesters,” whom it accuses of attacking police and harming national security and stability.

Nathan Maung is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Myanmar’s online news site, Kamayut Media. He was arrested on March 9 alongside co-founder and news producer Hanthar Nyein, 39, while security forces stormed his office.

Although he now lives in the United States, Nathan Maung said he is “not happy” and feels an overwhelming guilt because he was released because of his American citizenship, while his friend and colleague Hanthar Nyein, a national of Myanmar, remains imprisoned in the famous Insein prison.

“We’ve been through hell together. So we should be released together,” Nathan Maung said, her voice cracked with emotion. “I really want him to know we don’t forget him. He’s not alone.”

Danny Fenster, another American journalist who was prevented from boarding a flight leaving 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 came out Kamayut Media Office in Yangon. Security forces entered the gate and attacked the office, seized equipment and took Nathan Maung and Hanthar Nyein away as they left.

“They sent us to the Mingaladon interrogation center,” 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 almost blindfolded they were two whole weeks, he said.

“They started with their eyes covered and handcuffed and then they started questioning us. They kicked us in the face, hands and shoulder. All the answers hit us. Whatever we answered, whether right or wrong, they hit us. For three days, non-stop, “he said.

Nathan Maung said the facility had five houses and a large office. Inside the buildings, he said, there they were four interrogation cells. He said his bandaged eyes were removed on his last day, so he took a look at the room and the buildings.

“In the room there is a CCTV camera, there is no bed, there is only a small table and a chair so you can sit all day and night,” he said. “You’re blindfolded and there’s no time to sleep. They won’t let you. They put the handcuffs in front of you so you can try to sleep like that, but every five minutes they show up and start questioning “.

Americans locked up in Myanmar's famous Insein prison

This torture lasted eight days, during which the detainees would be transferred between the houses and the cells.

His partner Hanthar Nyein bore the brunt of the torture, Nathan Maung said.

“Hanthar was mistreated because he was a Burmese national. He had to kneel on the ground for about two days. His skin burned with a cigarette,” he said.

Nathan Maung believes the soldiers pressured Hanthar Nyein to hand him the phone password, which would give them access to his encrypted communications and phone records with leading activists and high-profile opponents.

For days, Hanthar Nyein resisted revealing the password, offering them fake numbers in hopes that his phone would automatically block anyone who didn’t use it. But the final straw came when the guards threatened to rape him.

“Hanthar couldn’t stand this and handed in his password and they stopped beating,” Nathan Maung said.

Nathan Maung’s phone broke during the arrest. He said the beatings stopped him on the fourth day, when soldiers discovered he was a U.S. citizen.

“They stopped hitting me and started asking questions about why the U.S. government sent me and gave me U.S. funding, if I worked for the CIA, that kind of stupid questions,” he said. “I said no, that I’m a journalist, that no one gave me money.”

Therefore, the line of the interrogation focused on his media company Kamayut Media. He said soldiers were asking about budgets and finances. “They’re looking for no 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 two days at first, we would be alive … but after that no one knows,” he said. “When they started giving us drinking water I thought, ‘Okay, we won’t die, we’ll live.’

Nathan Maung said he meditated to help overcome mental and physical trauma. “That’s the only thing that saved us from hell,” he said.

But his ordeal was not over.

After 15 days, Nathan Maung said he was transferred to a detention center adjacent to Myanmar’s Insein Prison, a crowded prison of about 10,000 inmates who has fame for terrible ill-treatment and afflictions. For two more weeks, he was housed in a large cell with about eighty more people: all student activists, protesters and members of the NLD, he said. He was then transferred to internal solitary confinement, where he remained until his release on 14 June.

Stop the violence of the board

The treatment of Nathan Maung and Hanthar Nyein in detention are not isolated incidents.

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 detain detainees for extended periods, in overcrowded and unhygienic interrogation centers and prisons. Detainees are frequently held incommunicado, unable to contact relatives or legal advisers,” the organization wrote. in the report. That he added that the victims “described beatings, burning of lit cigarettes, prolonged stress positions and sexist violence.”

Manny Maung, an HRW researcher in Myanmar and unrelated to Nathan Maung, said in a statement that since the coup the authorities they have been using torture “without fear of repercussions.”

“The sheer brutality of the beatings and abuses demonstrates the extent to which Myanmar’s military authorities will silence anyone who opposes the coup,” he 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 detained since taking office as part of a crackdown on independent media. Many media workers have been forced into exile abroad or have fled to rebel-held areas in the jungle. Those who remain in the cities have hidden and change safe houses every few days to avoid arrest.

“I was tortured because I believe in democracy, human rights and freedom of speech,” Nathan Maung said.

The military junta has struggled to consolidate its power over the entire country as it continues to face massive public opposition. Large-scale protests nationwide seen in the months following the takeover were brutally suppressed. In place, local militia groups they have been formed to defend cities and towns military violence and battles are being waged between junta forces and armed resistance groups multiple fronts all over the country.

“The civil war is happening now, it is already a failed state,” Nathan Maung said.

Nathan Maung said the international community cannot stand as long as the junta continues to operate with impunity and illegally against its people and called for “aggressive action” against the military.

“We don’t have time to wait to see. There are thousands of refugees fleeing the border, now there is a humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Standing in a park, surrounded by beeches in Washington, DC, thousands of miles from the cells, torture and violence, Nathan Maung feels torn, but says he plans to return to Asia and settle in the neighborhood Thailand to continue fighting for a democratic Myanmar.

“Sometimes I dream that 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 a citizen and as a journalist. Until I die, I have to work for it. I have to take care of my people. They deserve democracy and human rights.” he said. dit.

– Caitlin Hu contributed to this report.

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