Freed US journalist says he was tortured in Myanmar

·3-min read
 In this 26 March 2021 file photo  anti-coup protesters gesture during a march in Yangon, Myanmar. An American journalist was recently released after spending more than three months inside a notorious Myanmar prison (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
In this 26 March 2021 file photo anti-coup protesters gesture during a march in Yangon, Myanmar. An American journalist was recently released after spending more than three months inside a notorious Myanmar prison (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

An American journalist who was recently released after spending more than three months inside a notorious Myanmar prison, has said he was interrogated and tortured in custody along with many other detainees.

Nathan Maung, the 44-year-old editor of Kamayut Media, was detained on 9 March by the junta in a raid.

“I was punched and slapped several times. No matter what I said, they just beat me. They used both their hands to slap my eardrums many times. They punched my cheekbones on both sides. They punched my shoulders. I was not allowed to stand up. My legs were swollen. I could not move anymore,” Mr Maung, who was released and deported to US on 15 June, told Reuters.

He spent two weeks in a military-run interrogation centre in Yangon, according to CNN Business. Speaking to the media outlet from Washington, DC, Mr Maung said he feared he would be killed by the soldiers in detention and that his time at the facility was “hell.”

The editor expressed concerns for his colleague Hanthar Nyein, a Myanmar national at the Insein prison where political detainees are kept. “We’ve been through the hell together. So, we should be released together,” Maung told CNN Business. “I really want him to know that we are not forgetting him. He’s not alone,” he added.

Another American journalist — Danny Fenster — is being held at the same prison after being detained as he was trying to leave the country, according to reports.

The 37-year-old managing editor of Frontier Myanmar was detained at the Yangon International Airport on 25 May when he was about to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Frontier Myanmar said in a statement on its website that Mr Fenster was remanded to Insein Prison for two weeks following a brief hearing and is scheduled to appear again in court on July 1. “No reason was given for the filing of the charge against him,” it said.

“Nevertheless, we know that Danny has done nothing to warrant this 505a charge. We condemn his detention and demand his immediate and unconditional release.”

Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup in February 2021 from a democratically-elected government claiming widespread voter fraud, even though the country’s election commission found no proof of irregularities. Activists say more than 800 people have been killed by Myanmar’s military forces in violent protests against the military junta.

Mr Maung spoke about brutal torture of other prisoners with Reuters. “Some people experienced worse torture than us. There was someone together with me in a room for two days. His body was covered in bruises and injuries. They put his handcuffed hands on the table and beat his hand. The bones were not broken, but he was badly injured and his skin was ripped off,” he claimed.

He also claimed that he was not allowed to sleep for three or four days during his interrogation. He told CNN Business he was denied water but his colleague had it worse. He was made to kneel and his skin was burnt with cigarettes, Mr Maung said.

The military has not yet responded to a request for comment by CNN Business.

Human Rights Watch last week flagged arbitrary detention of thousands of people and “torture routine beatings, and other ill-treatment since the February 1, 2021 military coup.”

“Myanmar’s military and police often hold detainees in custody for extended periods, in overcrowded and unhygienic interrogation centres and prisons. Those detained are frequently kept incommunicado, unable to contact relatives or legal counsel,” the human rights group noted.

“Since the coup on February 1, Myanmar’s authorities have been using torture without fear of repercussions,” said Myanmar researcher at Human Rights Watch Manny Maung, who is no relation to Mr Maung. HRW wrote about a 17-year-old boy who was allegedly beaten for days while blindfolded and buried up to his neck in a mock burial.

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