Myanmar’s military junta is using torture to extract information from detainees on the whereabouts of senior opposition members and activist leaders, according to an American citizen and journalist who was recently released from a Yangon prison.
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.
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.