The weekend killing of a former political prisoner who was shot in the legs after a slow response to orders and then tortured to death raised the tally of Myanmar civilians to die under interrogation by security forces to 54 since the military seized power in a coup nearly eight months ago, sources in the country say.
Victims include members of the deposed ruling party the National League for Democracy, social volunteers, school teachers, and students, according to family members who say that blatant violations of the law by Myanmar’s military have left them with no way to seek justice.
Than Tun Oo, a severely obese former political prisoner, was abducted from his home in Mandalay on Sept. 25 and taken to the No. 7 Area Police Station, where he was shot in the legs when he failed to respond quickly to orders to kneel and later killed by interrogators, according to his friends.
Than Tun Oo’s death was reported to his family the next day, friends said.
The number of reported deaths under questioning rose from six to eight each month from March to July, with nine reported in August and 10 so far in September.
Also killed in September was Kyaw Min Oo, 40, a resident of Kalay in Myanmar’s Sagaing region. Arrested on Sept. 14, Kyaw Min Oo was taken from his home to the headquarters of the regional military command, where he died under suspicious circumstances.
“During a surprise check at his house in the industrial zone, they found an iron pipe which they said could be used as a rifle barrel, and they arrested him,” a friend told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his personal safety.
“After his arrest, there was no contact with his family or friends, and no details are known at this time regarding how or why he died,” his friend said, adding that Kyaw Min Oo’s captors quickly cremated his body, informing his family of his death only on Sept. 18.
Kyaw Min Oo had owned a lathe machine shop for around 20 years and is survived by his wife, an 11-year-old son, and a six-year-old son, he said.
In central Myanmar’s Myingyan district, 24-year-old Soe Maung Maung was reported dead on Sept. 17, three days after his Sept. 14 arrest, with military sources claiming the armed-robbery suspect had died of alcohol poisoning, a friend of the family said.
“His father-in-law, U Kalar, was told that Soe Maung Maung had died from drinking too much alcohol,” the friend said, speaking like RFA’s other sources on condition of anonymity.
“He died three days after he was arrested, and his family was told next day that he had died. His family had sent food packets for him every day,” he said.
U Kalar did not inform his daughter, Soe Maung Maung’s widow, of the death because she was pregnant, the man said.
Three of five young men arrested with Soe Maung Maung on robbery charges on Sept. 14 are being held at the military compound in Myingyan, while the whereabouts of the other two are still unknown, he said.
Also killed this month, Kyaw Kyaw—a 50-year-old resident of Taungdwingyi township in central Myanmar’s Magway region—was visiting a sick relative’s house on the night of Sept. 17 when he was arrested, with his death announced by military sources the next day, a source close to his family said.
Reached for comment by RFA, a local administrative official denied the man had died.
No hope for justice
Myanmar’s military operates with impunity in cases involving deaths in detention, leaving grieving family members with no confidence in winning justice from the country’s ruling authorities, relatives and lawyers say.
“They don’t take any action even if you file a complaint,” said a relative of Kan Htauk, a resident of Magway region’s Hnankhar village who died under interrogation on Aug. 21. “They are above the law, and so family members have no hope of getting justice,” he said.
“Families have no confidence in the [ruling] Military Council. The law is only in their mouths,” he said.
High Court lawyer Khin Maung Myint said that Myanmar law prohibits the torture of detainees, so that the killings reported at interrogation centers are violations of the law.
“Whether these deaths were caused by the investigation team, the military, or the police, it is a violation of the law if a person dies during arrest and interrogation. It is not in line with domestic or international law,” he said.
“We need the junta to rein in its security forces. Also, the current political situation in the country will not allow law firms to act in accordance with the law,” he said, adding that only a return to civilian rule will establish the rule of law needed to address the people’s grievances and concerns.
Requests for comment by junta spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun received no reply this week.
On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, claiming voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the country’s 2020 election.
The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide demonstrations calling for a return to civilian rule, killing 1,139 people and arresting 6,891 over the past eight months, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma).
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.