Myanmar: The institution of torture
Torture has become an institution in Myanmar, used throughout
the country on a regular basis, Amnesty International said today
in a new report. Police and the army continue to use torture to
extract information, punish, humiliate and control the population.
"Torture is employed as an instrument by the authorities
to keep the population living in a state of fear," the organization
The victims of torture in Myanmar are political activists,
criminal prisoners and members of ethnic minorities. Torture has
been reported for over four decades yet the methods of torture
have remained constant.
Torture techniques include: the "iron road", rolling
an iron up and down the shins until the skin peels off; "the
helicopter", being suspended from the ceiling and spun around
while being beaten;"Taik Peik", spending weeks or months
in tiny brick cells with little air or light; "ponsan",
being forced to maintain difficult positions for prolonged periods.
Political prisoners, believed to number around 1700, are at
risk of torture during the initial phases of detention. Activists
from the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party which
overwhelmingly won the 1990 elections, are frequently the targets
of torture and ill-treatment. Hundreds of its members are imprisoned
and tens of thousands have been forced to resign from the party.
Student activists who have been at the forefront of the pro-democracy
movement are also often tortured in detention. Freedom of expression
and assembly is almost completely denied to all.
One 23-year-old former political activist was arrested twice
during the 1990s, the first time when he was just 14. After his
second arrest he was forced to stand on his tiptoes with a pin
under his heel and kneel on sharp stones for prolonged periods.
At Military Intelligence 12 headquarters he was also subjected
to the "ponsan" technique. He told Amnesty International
that he was interrogated non-stop by rotating teams of Military
Intelligence personnel. He said "MI quarrelled amongst themselves
- they were afraid I was going to die on them."
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of criminal prisoners have died
in labour camps where they are forced to work under torturous
conditions building roads and breaking up stones. The authorities
openly admit that "the debt of crime will be repaid with
Members of ethnic groups such as the Shan, Karen and Karenni,
who live in areas of conflict, are seized, interrogated and tortured
to extract information on the whereabouts of armed ethnic minority
groups. Men, women and children also face torture when they are
taken by the Myanmar Army and forced to carry heavy supplies as
porters for days or weeks at a time or forced to work on construction
projects such as roads, railways and dams.
A Karenni Christian farmer from Kayah state was arrested by
the army and accused of working for an armed opposition group
after a battle in February 2000. He reported; "Three soldiers
beat me with rifle butts on my head and punched my face. I got
cut on my head and blood was running down from my nose. When I
fell down, they kicked me with military boots. My hearing is still
bad..." He was forced to accompany troops as a guide for
one week during which time he was beaten every day with sticks
and tied with a rope. He finally escaped, and after returning
to his village he hid with his family in the jungle for two weeks
before fleeing to Thailand.
Women who are taken as porters are vulnerable to rape by soldiers.
Amnesty International was told about the rape and murder of a
12-year-old girl, Naw Po Thu in October 1998. She was allegedly
raped by a major and managed to escape, but was recaptured, raped
again and then shot dead through the vagina. The major gave the
girl's family one sack of rice, a measure of sugar, a tin of condensed
milk and a small amount of money as compensation.
"Torture is used in a variety of settings in Myanmar
but the objectives are always the same -- repression and control,"
the organization said.
The military government denies torture exists, stating that
it is illegal in domestic law. Amnesty International urges the
Myanmar government to issue clear orders to all security forces
to adhere to this law and immediately stop the practice of torture.
It should also investigate all allegations of torture, bring perpetrators
to justice, and prohibit incommunicado detention which facilitates
For more information please call Amnesty International's press
office in London, UK,
on +44 20 7413 5566 Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London
web : http://www.amnesty.org
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