Shwe Yamin Htet, 17, and her mother Sandar Win were arrested by Myanmar security forces on April 14 in the Yangon town of Sanchaung as they were on their way home after taking part in a morning rally at the central area of the commercial center. The next day, the authorities took them to an interrogation center in the town of Shwepyitha. At the interrogation center, Shwe Yamin Htet stayed with other detainees, including a young woman who was brutally beaten and assaulted. Authorities released Shwe Yamin Htet on Tuesday, although her mother and 5 others were both arrested for defaming the state under Section 505 (a) of the Myanmar Penal Code and sent to the Prison. Insein is on the outskirts of Yangon.
In an exclusive interview with RFA’s Myanmar Service, Shwe Yamin Htet told reporter Aung Aung Soe about being verbally and sexually harassed by a policeman at the 24th police station in the town of Sanchaung before She was transferred to an interrogation center. She also told the story of a friend in custody who said she was brutally beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted by a soldier at the interrogation center. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: What did the police say this morning when they called you?
Shwe Yamin Htet: The caller had the same voice as the one who interrogated us. They asked me to go to the 24th police station because I had to sign a document. I reasoned for them that I was out of town and couldn’t make it. They asked me to come tomorrow. I said I would try, and then I hung up. They asked me to give them my address so they could come pick me up because they said they needed to sign the document in time. I have signed over 20 documents pledging that I will not participate in these [protest] activities. I must also sign a handwritten form before release. I could avoid them, even though they asked me to come. But I am deeply concerned that they will use my mother as a hostage to arrest me.
RFA: Why were you arrested?
Shwe Yamin Htet: I was arrested on April 14th. I participated in the Moh Lone Yay Paw rally at the market on 18th Street. After the demonstration, I went home and posted my photos. [online]. After that, I continued on to the next rally. I deleted most of the protest photos from my phone, except for the ones from the morning. On our way, a military truck arrived and [soldiers] dragged me and my mother onto the train. They immediately took my cell phone, so I didn’t get a chance to delete the photos. On the way, they met a police car and took us to the 24th police station in Sanchaung. Unfortunately, my mom hasn’t removed any protest photos from her phone since April 4. There are several revealing pictures showing her screaming at a loudspeaker during previous protests . There were videos of her defiant and shouting despicable words at the police during previous demonstrations in Sanchaung. The police at the station said that they recognized my mother from the previous protests. They emphasize that she tells them who is supporting her and funding her activities. At least six policemen interrogated my mother in a separate room. They don’t ask me anything. Then they told me that I would go to the interrogation center with my mother. I was born in 2004, 17 years old this year, but I lied to them that I was only 15 years old. They called my uncle at home and asked him to bring my birth certificate for them. When he accidentally did so, they knew I lied and said that I was old enough to be taken to an interrogation center. We had to sleep at the police station that night, and then they sent me to Shwepyitha the next day.
RFA: What happened when the police questioned you?
Shwe Yamin Htet: During the interrogation at the station, I was interrogated by a police officer with two stars on his uniform. A star in a uniform came into the room and patted my shoulder twice. I got very angry and hit him back to stop a second time. He pulled out a revolver from his pocket and set it on the table. He said I could shoot you dead and throw your body away. No one will know that. Then I yelled at him, “Shoot me and kill me if you dare.” The other employee scolded him to leave the room, saying I was underage and they could be in trouble. That is why I was taken to the interrogation center.
RFA: What is the Interrogation Center like?
Shwe Yamin Htet: There are four buildings at the interrogation center. There are separate buildings for male and female detainees. Security forces live in another building. They interrogated them one by one at a table. They asked my mother about her activities and if she is connected to the CRPH [the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, a Myanmar government in exile] or if she was supportive of the civil disobedience movement. She’s lucky she doesn’t have any pictures or other evidence that she has participated in these activities. The officer interrogating my mother was a nice person. The women there before us told us to answer all the questions with kindness and courtesy. They said if the detainees refused to submit, the officers would blindfold them and handcuff them to a separate interrogation room for beatings and torture. We do not know who the men in custody are, but we have seen some of them sent to that separate room for beatings. When they were brought back, they could barely walk because of the beatings.
RFA: Do you know what happened to some of the other detainees there?
Shwe Yamin Htet: On April 18, a 19-year-old girl arrived in the women’s hall. I don’t know her name. They asked us not to come into contact with newly arrested people. When questioning her, they asked if she had a boyfriend. The policemen always ask irrelevant personal questions. The girl replied yes and said that her boyfriend was among the men in custody. They said that if she had a boyfriend who was too young, her parents should know that. They then asked about her boyfriend’s ethnicity. She replied that her boyfriend is Muslim. After that, the interrogator became angry. They asked if she wanted to be a kalar [derogatory term for Muslims] wife, then they asked two other policemen to blindfold her and take her into the room to be tortured. She was brought back at around 7pm. We were all worried and asked about her situation, but she said she wasn’t beaten. But they brutally beat the male inmate whom she assumed was her boyfriend. His name is Karvee or something. She said they weren’t really a couple. They were captured with several weapons, so they made up a story that they were seeing each other and some friends gave them a package to transport. Two sisters were also among the newly arrested. A male inmate named Robert had previously provided authorities with information about the two sisters, and they went to their home in the town of South Okkala to arrest them. One of the sisters is not old enough. Three interrogators interrogated the sister, and two others questioned the younger one in the women’s building.
Around 4:00 a.m., a new female accused arrived. She was brutally tortured. The 19-year-old girl told us about her before because they were arrested together. The authorities didn’t beat her, but they pulled the other person’s hair and beat her. The soldiers accused them of being responsible for a bomb explosion in the town of Yankin a few days earlier because they found several slingshot and smoke bombs upon their arrest. That woman also has a list of sponsors and participants and their addresses. The soldiers brutally beat her, claiming that two soldiers had been killed by the explosion and that she was held accountable. They pulled her on the road and pulled her away. The 19-year-old girl said they sexually assaulted her as well. She said the woman was beaten with a metal tube and kicked in the groin. She said she was then taken to another interrogation center [and] Her request to reveal those on her list.
RFA: How bad is the woman’s situation?
Shwe Yamin Htet: When she arrived at the interrogation center, she could barely walk or eat. Her face was brutally bruised, and her lips were split open. We tried to help her and feed her. We gave her some of the drugs we had. She recounted what they did to her. It was like what the 19-year-old told us. Her eyes were bruised, but she could still see. She said her vagina was bleeding from a stone. If they continue to beat her and conduct a lengthy interrogation, I don’t think she will survive. There was no medicine or suitable treatment for her wound. Her condition could become critical.
Aye Aye Mon’s Report for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.