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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

“I didn’t look like a human”: journalist talks about torture in Myanmar

When more than 100 soldiers and police surrounded his three-story apartment building in March this year and blocked his neighborhood in Myanmar, journalist Ko Aung Zhuo knew they were following him.

So he began a live broadcast of his arrest in the southern city of Mieik, capturing soldiers in action as they smashed security cameras outside his apartment and threw stones at his windows.

When they broke down his door, he erased his cell phone memory to protect his contacts, although he knew the punishment would be swift and harsh.

He was taken to a pre-trial detention center, where, according to him, the soldiers immediately started beating him. The smell of alcohol, they burned his face and hands with a cigarette, stepped on his fingers and put plastic bags on his head, as a result of which he almost suffocated eight times, he said.

His confidence that he was about to die strengthened his resolve not to name any names.

“In my mind, I was dead,” he said. “Later, when I saw the photo they took, I did not recognize myself. My face was swollen and I didn’t look human. “

The New York Times was unable to independently confirm the particular treatment of Mr. Aung Zhuo, but reports of torture in custody have been widespread since the military seized power in a February 1 coup. Investigators often try to find out the names of accomplices, contacts and, in the case of journalists, their sources.

Almost all of the 11,000 people arrested by the junta during the brutal persecution have been tortured to some degree, according to the Political Prisoner Aid Association, a defense group. According to the group, at least 184 people were tortured to death, including journalist Ko So Naing, who was arrested on December 10 while covering a protest in Yangon.

The main target was Mr. Aung Zhuo, a video journalist for the independent Democratic Voice of Burma. Even before the coup, he wrote extensively about corruption in the army, the seizure of land and the practice of stealing from the population.

Some of his online reports have received millions of views. The military was particularly outraged by his 2019 story, which led to the arrest of a close military ally, the nationalist monk Ashina Viratu, for inciting mutiny.

Short and sober, 32-year-old Aung Zhuo has always been outspoken, often at great risk. “I became a journalist because when I see injustice, I cannot put up with it,” he said.

Since the coup, the regime has killed more than 1,340 people and more than 8,000 opponents remain behind bars, according to the AAPP, according to the AAPP, at least 26 journalists are being held in Myanmar for their reporting, second only to China, according to the Defense Committee. Journalists.

In October, the regime announced it would release 5,600 prisoners, but only released a few hundred. One of them, much to his surprise, was Mr. Aung Zhuo.

Knowing that he was likely to be arrested again, he and his family fled across the border to Thailand.

By 1989, the year of Mr. Aung Zhuo’s birth, the military ruled Myanmar for 27 years. His family lived in the small town of Kyaiklat southeast of Yangon, an idyllic location in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, where they owned a successful boat rental business and a small sawmill.

His earliest memory is that their house burned down when he was 3 years old. The fire started in the middle of the night in a neighbor’s kitchen and led to the destruction of 13 houses.

A local military-appointed administrator, instead of helping displaced and disadvantaged families, responded by seizing the land on which the houses stood and giving it to his friends. Families were forced to look for housing and work elsewhere. Mr. Aung Zhuo called this a “life lesson”.

As he grew up, he realized that such injustice was common in Myanmar. By the age of 14, he joined the underground resistance movement against military rule.

“Everyone was afraid,” he said. “But I thought that if we don’t confront the military now, we will have to confront the military in the next generation.”

As a teenager, he began writing articles condemning the military, and at 19 he opened one of the first internet cafes in the country. It has become a gathering place for young activists.

His first arrest was in 2010 for criticizing the regime. He was taken to a pre-trial detention center and interrogated around the clock for 11 sleepless days. He said he refused to cooperate.

Charged with violating the law on telecommunications and disseminating information that could harm the military, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but was released two years later under an amnesty.

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Around the time of his arrest, the military began to weaken its influence in the country, which led to the rapid proliferation of mobile phones, an increase in the number of independent media and the election of civilian leaders who shared power with the military.

In 2015, Mr. Aung Zhuo began working full-time at the Democratic Voice of Burma, or DVB, where one of his roles was to help more than 60 citizen journalists cover their communities. In the aftermath of the coup, citizen journalists played an important role in reporting on the atrocities of the junta.

After getting married in 2018, he moved to Mieik, his wife’s hometown. There, he reported on the theft by the military of fuel from fishermen, the seizure of land from farmers and involvement in the drug trade.

On the day of his arrest, he broadcast live a report about how soldiers beat people, including a pregnant woman, and steal their money. It has amassed 2.8 million views.

The authorities came to look for him, but he had already left the scene. When they surrounded his apartment building that evening, he was ready.

He knew that his investigators would consider the removal of his telephone contacts a provocation, which would lead to more severe torture. “But my job is to protect my news sources,” he said.

When the beatings, burning and suffocation could not make him speak, the angry soldiers beat him with a wooden club, repeatedly hitting him in the face. He thought he had lost both eyes. After a soldier kicked him in the head, Mr. Aung Zhuo said he could no longer move. He passed out, ending the interrogation.

It took several weeks before he was able to walk again.

He attended the video trial two days after his arrest. His face was bruised and swollen, and he told the judge about the torture he had undergone. The judge said it was out of his jurisdiction.

Mr. Aung Zhuo was again found guilty of disseminating information harmful to the military – a charge often brought against journalists – and sentenced to two years in prison.

Considering that there were only two thin blankets in the Meijik prison, he slept on the wooden floor in such a crowded place that he could only lie on his side. He was forced to work with other prisoners who made false eyelashes for local companies.

The drug dealers, who made up the vast majority of prisoners, paid the guards for benefits. In Mr. Aung Zhuo’s cell, drug dealers beat several protesters and forced all political prisoners to remain in a small corner. He complained to the prison administration, which prompted death threats from both drug dealers and security guards.

Soon after his release, he planned to flee Myanmar with his wife, their two-year-old daughter, and his wife’s sister, who also worked as a journalist.

Posing as a family on vacation, they drove to the town of Myawaddi on the border with Thailand. Often returning along country roads, they drove through dozens of checkpoints, sometimes paying soldiers to let them through.

Eventually, they crossed the Moei River in a boat to reach Thailand, carrying all their mundane possessions in a backpack and small suitcase.

Mr. Aung Zhuo’s sense of freedom when he moved to Thailand was soon softened by the reality of living in exile in an unfamiliar country. He and his family hope to seek asylum in Europe or Australia.

“I’m worried because I don’t have legal documents or a language to communicate,” he said. “But I also feel relieved that I no longer live under a military dictatorship.”

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
World Nation News is a digital news portal website. Which provides important and latest breaking news updates to our audience in an effective and efficient ways, like world’s top stories, entertainment, sports, technology and much more news.
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