Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Myanmar’s security forces have arrived and the streetlights have gone black. From house to house, people turned off the lights.
19-year-old Shue, who moved to his home in Yangon, dared to look out the window. The flashlight came back and ordered her not to see the man’s voice.
Two bullets rang. Then the man screams: “Help!” When the military truck finally rolled down, Shwe and her family appeared in search of her 15-year-old brother.
“I could feel the blood throbbing,” she says. “I felt he might be taken away.”
Myanmar’s security forces have arrested and forcibly disappeared thousands of people across the country, especially boys and young men, to quell a three-month rebellion against military takeover. In most cases, families of abducted people do not know where they are, according to an Associated Press analysis of the arrests of more than 3,500 people since February. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is aware of the cases of approximately 1,000 children or adolescents who were arbitrarily arrested and detained, many of whom have no contact with lawyers or their families.
This is the technique the military has long used to instill fear and quell democratic movements. Boys and young men are taken from homes, businesses and streets. Some people die. Many are imprisoned and sometimes tortured. Many more are missing.
“We have definitely moved into a mass disappearance situation,” said Matthew Smith, co-founder of Fortify Rights, a human rights group that gathered evidence of detainees killed during detention. “We have documented and viewed a wide range of systematic arbitrary arrests.”
AP has withheld Shue’s full name to protect her from military retaliation.
The Auto Body Shop in Shue’s neighborhood was a regular hangout for local boys. On the night of March 21st, her brother went there to relax as usual.
As Shue approached the store, she saw it looted. Desperately, she and her father searched the building for signs of their beloved boy.
But he left and the floor was covered with blood.
Since the Myanmar military took control in February, the faces of missing persons have flooded the Internet. Recently, photographs of young people detained by security forces have also begun to be disseminated online and on military-controlled television, and their faces have become bloody, clearly showing the potential for beatings and torture.
At least 3,500 people have been detained since the beginning of the military takeover, more than three-quarters of whom are men, according to an analysis of data collected by the Political Prisoners Support Association, which monitors the dead and arrests. Of the 419 men whose ages are recorded in the group’s database, nearly two-thirds are under the age of 30, and 78 are teenagers.
Nearly 2,700 detainees have been detained in private locations, according to an AAPP spokesman.
“The military is trying to turn civilians, strike workers and children into enemies,” says Ko Bo Kyi, co-secretary of AAPP. “They think that if they can kill boys and young men, they can kill the revolution.”
After being questioned by the Associated Press, a military known as Tatmadaw called a Zoom press conference, during which time AAPP was called an “unfounded organization,” but the data was inaccurate and security forces targeted young men. I denied that.
“Security forces have not been arrested on the basis of gender or age,” said Captain Aye Thazin Myint, a military spokesman. “They are only detaining those who are causing riots, protests, anxiety, or acting along those lines.”
Some of the people robbed by security forces were protesting. Some have something to do with the military’s rival parties. Others are taken for no identifiable reason. They are usually prosecuted in section 505 (A) of the Criminal Code. It partially criminalizes “fear-causing” comments.
Myanmar human rights activist Wai Hin Pwint Tong is familiar with Tamadu’s tactics. Her father, renowned political activist Mya Aye, was arrested during a rebellion against the 1988 military regime, and her family waited months before learning that he was in jail.
He was arrested again during this year’s military takeover. It was two months ago that his family discovered that he was detained in the infamous Insein Prison in Yangon.
“I can’t imagine a family of young people aged 19, 20 and 21 in jail … we’re worried about this and are used to this situation,” she says. “I’m trying to keep hope, but things are getting worse every day.”
Military horror tactics have proven to be very effective. When soldiers and police are found all over the country, residents take turns regularly holding night clocks, hitting pots and pans, and yelling at neighbors from the streets.
“I’m more afraid of being arrested than being shot,” says a 29-year-old man who was arrested, beaten, later released, and spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation. “I have a chance to die on the spot with just one shot, but I’m worried that they’ll be arrested and torture me.”
Returning to Yangon, Shue tried to convince himself that the blood on the store floor did not belong to her brother.
He and three other young men from the store were taken away. Neighbors said security forces could have targeted the boys because they found someone in a steel slingshot in the store.
At 2:00 am, police officers called Shue’s brother in a military hospital and shot in his hand.
Shue says her family told police that her brother was a minor. However, on March 27, they were sentenced to three years in prison after learning that her brother and three others had been charged with possession of weapons.
When he was first hospitalized, they were allowed one short call with him, but nothing after that. Shue remembers hearing his brother tell his suffering mother, “I’m okay.”
Shue doesn’t know if that’s still true. She is worried about her brother, a quiet boy who loves to play games. She is also worried about her crying mother and her father, who hurts for her only son.
For now, they can do nothing more than wait and hope. Don’t let him be beaten. He will get forgiveness. The people of Myanmar can feel at ease again soon.
“We are all suffering, but at least we are trying to see the bright side of knowing where he is,” she says. “I was lucky that he was only kidnapped.”
Gelineau reported from Sydney.