Shwe Yamin Htet, 17, and her mother Sandar Win were arrested by Myanmar security forces on April 14 in Yangon’s Sanchaung township as they made their way home after participating in a morning protest in the commercial hub’s downtown area. The following day, authorities sent them to an interrogation center in Shwepyitha township. At the interrogation center, Shwe Yamin Htet was housed with other detainees, including a young women who was brutally beaten and assaulted. Authorities released Shwe Yamin Htet on Tuesday, though her mother and five others who were arrested together were charged with defamation of the state under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code with and sent to Insein Prison on Yangon’s outskirts.
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 No. 24 police Station in Sanchaung township before she was transferred to the interrogation center. She also recounted the story of a fellow detainee who said she was brutally beaten, tortured, and sexually assaulted by a soldier at the interrogation center. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: What did the police tell you this morning when they called you?
Shwe Yamin Htet: The person who called has the same voice as the person who interrogated us. They asked me to come to the No. 24 police station since I had to sign a document. I gave them the excuse that I was out of town and could not come. They asked me to come tomorrow. I said I would try, and then I hung up the phone. They had asked me to give them my address so they could come and get me because they said they needed to get the document signed in time. I have signed over 20 documents pledging that I will not get involved in these [protest] activities. I also had to sign a handwritten statement before I was released. I can avoid them, although they have demanded that I come. But I am deeply concerned that they will use my mother as a hostage to get me.
RFA: Why were you arrested?
Shwe Yamin Htet: I was arrested on April 14. I had participated in the Moh Lone Yay Paw protest at the market on 18th Street. After the protest, I went home and posted my photos [online]. Then, I proceeded to go to the next protest. I deleted most of the protests photos on my phone, except the ones from the morning. On our way, a military truck arrived and [soldiers] dragged me and my mother on board. They immediately took my mobile phone, so I didn’t get a chance to delete the photos. On the way, they met a police car and took us to No. 24 police station in Sanchaung. Unfortunately, my mother hadn’t deleted any of the protest photos on her phone since April 4. There were some revealing photos showing her shouting into a megaphone during earlier protests. There are the video files of her challenging and shouting degrading words at police during the earlier protests in Sanchaung. The policemen at the station said they recognized my mother from the earlier protests. They insisted that she tell them who was supporting her and funding her activities. At least six policemen interrogated my mother in a separate room. They didn’t ask me anything. They later told me that I would accompany my mother to the interrogation center. I was born in 2004 and am 17 years old, but I lied to them, saying that I was only 15. They called my uncle at home and asked him to bring my birth certificate to them. When he did so unknowingly, they knew that I had lied and said that I was old enough to be sent to the 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 interrogated you?
Shwe Yamin Htet: During the interrogation at the station, I was questioned by a police officer with two stars on his uniform. A policeman with no stars on his uniform came into the room and patted me on the shoulder twice. I was so mad and hit his hand back to stop in the second time. He pulled a revolver from his pocket and put it on the table. He said I can shoot and kill you and dispose of your body. No one will know it. Then, I screamed at him, “Shoot me and kill me if you dare.” The other officer yelled at him to leave the room, saying that I was underage and that they could get in trouble. That’s the reason I was sent to the interrogation center.
RFA: What was the interrogation center like?
Shwe Yamin Htet: There are four buildings at the interrogation center. There are separate buildings for men and women detainees. The security forces live in another building. They interrogate people one by one at a table. They asked my mother about her activities and if she had connections to the CRPH [the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, a Myanmar government in exile] or if she had supported civil disobedience movement participants. She was lucky that she didn’t have any photos or other evidence that she was involved in these activities. The officer who interrogated my mother was a nice one. The women who were there before us told us to answer all the questions nicely and politely. They said if the detainees were unyielding, the officers would blindfold them and take them in handcuffs to a separate interrogation room for beatings and torture. We don’t know who the male detainees were, but we saw some of them being taken 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 interact with the new detainees. When they interrogated her, they asked her if she had a boyfriend. The policemen always asked irrelevant personal questions. The girl answered yes and said that her boyfriend was among the male detainees. They said that if she had a boyfriend at such a young age that her parents should be made aware of it. Then they asked about her boyfriend’s ethnicity. She answered that her boyfriend was a Muslim. Then, the interrogator became furious. They asked her if she wanted to be a kalar’s [derogatory term for Muslims] wife, then they asked two other police officers to blindfold her and take her to the room to be tortured. She was brought back around 7 p.m. We were all worried and asked about her situation, but she said she hadn’t been beaten. But they did brutally beat the male detainee she claimed was her boyfriend. His name was Karvee something. She said they were not really a couple. They were caught together with some weapons, so they made up a story that they were seeing each other and that some friends give them a package to transport. Two sisters were also among the new detainees. A male detainee named Robert earlier had given authorities information about the two sisters, and they went to their home in South Okkala township to arrest them. One of the sisters was underage. Three interrogators questioned the older sister, and two others questioned the younger one in the women’s building.
Around 4 a.m., a new female detainee arrived. She had been brutally tortured. The 19-year-old girl told us about her earlier because they were arrested together. The authorities didn’t beat her, but they pulled the hair of the other one and beat her. The soldiers accused them of being responsible for a bomb blast in Yankin township a few days earlier since they found some slingshots and smoke bombs when they arrested them. That woman also had a list of donors and participants and their addresses. The soldiers brutally beat her, saying that two soldiers had been killed by the blast and that she was responsible. They pulled her onto the road and dragged her. The 19-year-old said they had also sexually assaulted her. She said the woman was beaten with a metal pipe and was kicked in her groin. She said she was later sent to another interrogation center [and] asked to reveal the persons on her list.
RFA: How bad was 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. We tried to help her and feed her. We gave her some medicine we had. She recounted what they had done to her. It is the same as what the 19-year-old had told us. Her eyes were bruised, but she could still see. She said her vagina was bleeding due to the kicking. If they had kept on beating her and conducting a long interrogation session, I don’t think she would have survived. There was no proper medicine or treatment available there for her injuries. Her condition could become critical.
Reported by Aye Aye Mon for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.