At least 145 people have died while being interrogated by authorities in Myanmar over the 19 months since the military seized control of the country in a coup, according to an investigation by RFA Burmese.
Rights groups and Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) noted that many of the victims found to have died in custody between the Feb. 1, 2021 putsch and the end of September 2022 were members of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and likened their deaths to “war crimes.”
The most recent detainees to die during interrogation were NLD MP for Kachin state’s Mohnyin township Myo Myo Kyaw, NLD Party Secretary for Naypyidaw’s Oke Ta Ra Thi Ri township Zaw Myo Win aka Ko Gyi, Yangon region’s Twantay township-based NLD supporter Khin Myo Nwe, Kan Ni village NLD Party Chairman in Bago region’s Waw township Nyunt Win, and Mandalay region’s Wundwin township-based high school teacher Kyaw Naing Win.
A resident of Mohnyin township with ties to Myo Myo Kyaw told RFA that the lawmaker was arrested by junta troops on Aug. 24 and confirmed dead on Sept. 22. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the resident said that since learning of Myo Myo Kyaw’s death, the MP’s family members are too frightened to hold a traditional Buddhist funeral service for him.
“His family didn’t know about his death because the authorities never informed them,” he said.
“His family members wish to donate offerings to Buddhist monks and hold funeral services for him, but they are too scared.”
Meanwhile, the resident told RFA, the Mohnyin Township General Administration Department – now controlled by the junta – sealed Myo Myo Kyaw’s home on the morning of the day his death was confirmed.
Residents of Bago region’s Waw township told RFA that Kan Ni village NLD Party Chairman Nyunt Win was arrested on Sept. 15 while farming and sent to the 77 Light Infantry Division’s interrogation center in Bago township’s Inn Ta Kaw village tract. They said junta authorities informed the party chairman’s family on Sept. 16 that Nyunt Win had died of COVID-19 and said his body had been cremated.
Zaw Myo Win, the NLD Party Secretary for Naypyidaw’s Oke Ta Ra Thi Ri township, was arrested by the military on Sept. 12, while in Mandalay’s Pyinoolwin township, sources close to his family told RFA. They said authorities told his family that he had died of COVID-19, but refused to return his body.
Residents of Zee Hpyu Kone village tract, in Yangon’s Twantay township, told RFA that NLD supporter Khin Myo Nwe was arrested by junta authorities on Aug. 29, adding that her family members were informed of her death two days later.
A resident who declined to be named, citing security concerns, said Khin Myo Nwe’s family members were allowed to view her body at a military hospital in Mingaladon township on Aug. 30.
“I heard her family members went there to see the body, but they were only allowed to see her face,” the resident said.
“They weren’t allowed to take any photos or videos of the condition of her body. The authorities only let them in after they turned over their phones and wouldn’t hand over her remains.”
The resident told RFA that Khin Myo Nwe had been in good health with no pre-existing conditions prior to her death. Authorities never provided a cause of death to her family, they said.
Similarities to ‘war crimes’
U.K.-based group Burma Human Rights Network told RFA that many of the victims of deaths in custody since the coup have been members or supporters of the NLD.
The group’s executive director, Kyaw Win, likened such deaths to “crimes committed by a fascist government.”
“Killing someone while in detention is a very heinous form of murder. These kinds of cases are similar to the crimes commited by the Nazis during World War II,” he said.
“We have an IIMM (Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar) and we will provide all the evidence to these organizations and build a case. There will be prosecutions at the international court. The perpetrators will be punished.”
NUG spokesperson Kyaw Zaw also claimed that the shadow government has “solid evidence” the junta has committed war crimes.
“All perpetrators at all levels will be made to take responsibility, whether they have issued orders or carried out the crimes … Justice will be served.”
RFA was unable to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Major General Zaw Min Tun for comment on the deaths in custody Tuesday.
In January, when questioned by RFA, he did not deny that such deaths had occurred under the military regime, but claimed that authorities conduct arrests and interrogations in accordance with international standards. Incidents of death in custody are investigated as manslaughter cases, he said at the time.
According to Thai NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), authorities have killed at least 2,332 civilians and arrested nearly 16,000 since last year’s coup – mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests. More than 12,500 remain in detention, the group says.
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