Rakhine Man Reported Tortured to Death by Myanmar Army

Soldiers stopped Zaw Gyi at a security checkpoint while he was on his way to get his motorbike repaired.

Rakhine Man Reported Tortured to Death by Myanmar Army

A man was tortured to death by Myanmar soldiers after he was arrested at a security checkpoint as he traveled from a village in volatile Rakhine state to have his motorbike repaired, members of his family said Thursday.

Myanmar troops have set up the security checkpoints along main roads in townships in northern Rakhine where forces have engaged in fierce fighting with the rebel Arakan Army (AA) for 16 months. They often stop civilians and question them to determine if they have any connections to the AA, which is seeking greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhines in the state.

Zaw Gyi from Lakesinpyin village was killed on Wednesday evening by troops from Light Infantry Battalion No. 377 in the suburbs of Mrauk-U town, they said.

“He went to town to get his motorbike repaired,” said Than Myint Htay, Zaw Gyi’s brother-in-law. “He was arrested at around 4 p.m. As soon as we heard that he had been arrested, we went to the soldiers, but they told me that he wasn’t there.”

On Thursday morning, his relatives were told to retrieve his corpse from a hospital where soldiers sent his badly bruised and injured body, they added.

“Someone called and told us that he saw Zaw Gyi was taken by soldiers,” said San Tun Phyu, the dead man’s father-in-law.

“We finally heard that his body was at the Mrauk-U mortuary,” he said, adding that Zaw Gyi had no ties to the AA.

“When anyone dies in military detention, they always say that that person had been arrested and interrogated because he had connections to the AA,” San Tun Phyu said. “The military always accuses people like this. Actually, he [Zaw Gyi] had no relations to the AA.”

Kyaw Kyaw, chairman of the Mrauk-U Free Funeral Service Society, said that the town’s police chief called him Thursday morning to notify him that someone had died at the battalion’s base and asked him to transport the body to the hospital.

“We went to Battalion No. 377 and transported the body to Mrauk-U Hospital,” he said. “When we went to the battalion, no one told us anything.”

A Mrauk-U resident who requested anonymity out of safety concerns told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the body was wrapped in a blanket that when unfolded revealed a corpse that was disfigured from torture wounds.

Zaw Gyi’s relatives said they were allowed to take the body back to the village where they will hold a funeral on Friday.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said he did not know whether a man being held by the battalion was Zaw Gyi.

“I know a man was under interrogation until last night because AA contacts and videos were found on his mobile phone,” he said. “I haven’t heard any update yet whether this man is dead or not. If this is the case, then we would order an inquest according to the law. If it is determined that he died during the interrogation, we will file legal action accordingly.”

At least 15 civilians have died while being held by the military for interrogations, according to victim’s families.

The latest torture death occurred on the same day the U.N.’s outgoing envoy monitoring human rights in Myanmar called for an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the government army and its practice of targeting civilians.

“While the world is occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assault in Rakhine state, targeting the civilian population,” said Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

“The Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] is systematically violating the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights. Its conduct against the civilian population of Rakhine and Chin states may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Lee, who has been blocked by the government from visiting Myanmar for more than two years.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Myanmar Press Freedom Decline Dashes High Hopes For ‘Lady of Yangon’

Repressive, vague laws wielded by an aggressive army belie lofty promises in the democratizing former military dictatorship.

Myanmar Press Freedom Decline Dashes High Hopes For ‘Lady of Yangon’

Press freedom in Myanmar has sharply deteriorated over the past four years, disappointing high hopes for Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian-led government, which pledged greater liberty for journalists but performed worse than the previous military-led administration, media watchdogs and journalists in the country say.

During her four years at the helm of the democratizing former military dictatorship, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi broke a key 2015 general election promise to support freedom of expression, instead allowing journalists to be prosecuted under repressive and vaguely worded laws.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Myanmar 139 out of 180 countries this year, observing that “media freedom is clearly not one of the priorities of the government led by the ‘Lady of Yangon,’” a reference to Aung San Suu Kyi who took office for a five-year term in April 2016.

The country slid one spot from its raking by RSF in 2019, marking the latest in a series of successive drops since the state counselor came to power.

“We had already expected this [result] before this index was released,” Zayar Hlaing, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, said about the latest RSF ranking.

“We know Myanmar’s press freedom condition is deteriorating,” he said. “We have seen several cases of the government filing charges against the journalists during these years. There were charges against journalists filed by the military. There were also cases where some journalists were arrested.”

The two biggest news stories from Myanmar in recent years — the scorched earth expulsion of 740,000 Rohingya Muslims to refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2017 and a 16-month-old war involving the Arakan Army (AA) — both have shown Myanmar’s military in an a harsh light, prompting United Nations war crimes investigations.

Prosecution numbers

Currently there are as many as 62 journalists being prosecuted under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, according to Maung Saungkha, executive director of ATHAN, an activist organization he founded to promote the right to freedom of expression in Myanmar.

Thirty-four of the cases against the journalists were filed under Section 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunication Law, he said. The statute prohibits the use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a maximum two-year prison sentence.

Eight cases were filed under Section 17 of Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law, four other journalists were charged with defamation, and the remaining cases were filed under various other charges, Maung Saungkha said.

“In a time like this, it is undeniable that the condition of press freedom in Myanmar has been deteriorating annually,” he said as the world prepares to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Thar Loon Zaung Htet of Khit Thit News and Khine Myat Kyaw of Narinjara News were charged in March for violating the Counter-Terrorism Law by interviewing members of the AA, the rebel ethic military that is fighting government forces in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Similarly, police arrested Voice of Myanmar (VOM) editor-in-chief Nay Myo Lin at his home in Mandalay on March 31 for the publication of an interview with the AA spokesman, but prosecutors later dropped the charges. Nay Myo Lin faced up to life in prison if he had he been found guilty of charges filed under two sections of Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law.

“The sections of the law they charged me under includes the phrase ‘anyone who violates the terms,’ meaning that journalists are no exception,” he said. “It severely limits press freedom and the rights of journalists. The police said my news organization’s work violated the sections of the law regardless of how we did our reporting.”

Nay Myin Lin said that police told him if his news organization conducted any additional interviews with the AA, he could be charged again for conspiring with an illegal organization under the Unlawful Associations Act.

“It is very terrifying because it is the military that doesn’t like journalists broadcasting the voices of members of insurgent groups,” he said. “They don’t like any kind of coverage of armed conflicts either.”

Reuters Myanmar reporters Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo (R) gesture as they walk toward the gate of Insein Prison in Yangon after being released under a presidential amnesty, May 7, 2019. RFA
Sharp reversal

Numerous other examples of journalists arrested under the current government abound.

Aung Kyi Myint, who uses the name Nanda while reporting for privately owned broadcast outlet Channel Mandalay TV, received a two-year prison sentence for using social media networks to provide live coverage of a demonstration against a cement production factory in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region in May 2019 when police beat protesters.

He was accused of using violence against police and soldiers, though there was no evidence to support that, according to a statement issued by RSF in August 2019.

In a case that made international news headlines, two Reuters news agency journalists in Myanmar spent more than 16 months in jail on charges of obtaining state secrets while reporting on the killing of a group of Rohingya by government soldiers in volatile Rakhine state.

They were released in a presidential amnesty on May 6, 2019, shortly after winning a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the murders.

Conditions in Myanmar, which endured five decades until 2011 of rule by a brutal military regime that had jailed even Aung San Suu Kyi, mark a sharp reversal from previous statements made by the country’s leaders in recent years.

During World Press Freedom Day in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi appealed to the media “to contribute to ongoing democratic transitions” in the country and pledged to enact a News Media Law.

“We all have to work to create laws related to the media and give protection to journalists,” she said at a ceremony marking the occasion. “It is the ruling government administration’s responsibility to make these laws effective.”

In 2019, President Win Myint said in a statement during a World Press Freedom Day ceremony in Yangon that “media freedom is essential for Myanmar to become a robust democracy.”

News Media Law

Press freedom advocates say given the current situation, the News Media Law drafted in 2014 may never be approved during the final year of the NLD government’s five-year term.

The draft law introduces some guarantees for media freedom, such as the prohibition of censorship and the recognition of specific rights of media workers, though critics note that its safeguards are heavily qualified and insufficient to meet international standards.

“We don’t have any laws protecting the press freedom and freedom of expression,” said PEN Myanmar secretary Han Zaw. “The existing laws do not give any protection, and we are not in the position to amend them.”

“As long as we cannot create a legal environment that offers protection for press freedom, there will be challenges and prosecutions of journalists,” he added.

Amid the crackdowns on press freedom, journalists are under further pressure in doing their jobs amid the coronavirus crisis.

“In the meantime, the COVID-19 crisis early this year has hit the already struggling print media pretty hard,” said Ah Mann, editor-in-chief of 7 Days News journal. “There are more and more added pressures on the media industry. We are barely surviving now.”

“The worst part is we are witnessing one bad news story after another with some newspapers laying off many of their staffers,” he said. “Some newspapers are planning to suspend their circulations.”

The Myanmar Times, a major privately run newspaper, recently suspended more than 70 employees, including 30 journalists to reduce operational cost and lack of steady income amid the COVID-19 crisis.

A much-criticized internet service blackout in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin states, ordered by the government for security purposes amid armed conflict in the region, is also preventing journalists from reporting news about the fighting.

Reported by Nandar Chann, Thant Zin Oo, and Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Maung Nyo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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