Three hours in 'hell room': Myanmar protester describes beating in custody

·3 min read
A man, who says he was beaten by soldiers in custody, shows his bruises in Myeik

(Reuters) - A protester in Myanmar who says he was detained by troops for three hours as part of the crackdown against opponents of last month's military coup has described being beaten with belts, chains, bamboo sticks and batons.

In a rare first-hand account of the treatment of detained activists, the man told Reuters he was one of about 60 people picked up on Tuesday by police in Myeik, a southern coastal town, as they hid in a house after a protest was broken up by them.

A military spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment on the man's allegations. Myeik police station did not answer its phone. The army has previously said it is dealing with protests lawfully.

The man provided photographs which he said were taken by his family showing injuries on his back, neck and shoulders.

Reuters has verified that the photographs were of the man and that his family had taken them. The news agency, which spoke to the man by telephone, could not verify his account.

The protesters were put in a truck and handed over to troops at Myeik air base, where the men were separated from the women, photographed and taken to a room, the man said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being detained again.

Reuters was unable to reach the air base for comment.

"We got beaten the whole time even while we were walking to the room," he said. "The soldiers said, 'This is the hell room, why don't you guys have a taste?'"

He described being told to kneel and said five of the group were told to face each other while they were beaten on their backs, heads, necks and sides. He said he was later freed along with several others without explanation. Some others were formally arrested and sent to jail.

Reuters was unable to contact the jail for comment.

Pyae Phyo Aung, a former student union member in Myeik who has been in touch with released protesters, told Reuters 32 people were arrested in the incident, according to a list that he helped compile for civil society groups. He said he saw another protester with injuries on his back and hip.

"When I met him, he couldn't even sit," Pyae Phyo Aung said. "He was lying face down because of the injuries on his hips."

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government in a coup on Feb. 1 and detained her and other politicians.

The military says an election in November won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) was marred by fraud - a claim rejected by the national electoral commission - and has set up a junta to rule the country pending a new vote on an unspecified date.

Security forces have cracked down with increasing force on daily nationwide protests, and more than 60 demonstrators have been killed and 1,900 people arrested since the coup, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has said.

Reuters has not been able to confirm the figures independently.

At least two people, both NLD officials, have died in custody since last Saturday after being arrested, according to party sources, although the reason for their deaths is not known. The military has not commented on this.

(Reporting by Reuters staff, Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)