MYAUNG MYA TOWN— The family of a 14-year-old boy who was detained by police in Myaung Mya Town, Irrawaddy Division, says that he was tortured so badly while in custody that he has been unable to walk since his release more than a month ago.
Khin Shwe, the mother of Soe Lin, said police arrested her son as a suspect in the murder of their neighbor Kyaw Wai, who was killed on July 23. During his detention, she said that he was charged with murder at Myaung Mya Township Court and severely tortured during police interrogation.
After spending about four months in police custody he was released on bail in mid-October. By then, Soe Lin’s health conditions had severely deteriorated, his mother said.
“My child cannot walk at all,” Khin Shwe told The Irrawaddy. “Someone has to put him on his back and transport him if he needs to go somewhere. He has been like this since the day he was released from the police station. He can’t stand up and someone has to help him to do so.”
She added, “He says he can’t breathe properly. He said he felt like this after policemen put his head under water as part of torture in custody.”
Khin Shwe said the family had been unable to speak to Soe Lin for one month while he was in custody, adding that she and nine-year old daughter were also detained for questioning for two days following the killing of their neighbor.
Soe Lin told The Irrawaddy by phone that police had subjected him to violent torture, burning off his eyebrows, holding his head under water, pushing burning cigarettes on his skin, forcing him to kneel for long periods of time, and depriving him of food and water.
“I told them [police] that I was not friends with Kyaw Wai and didn’t even talk to him, and didn’t kill him,” the boy told The Irrawaddy. “I also told them that I had never been to his house but they kept telling me that I had been there. They kept asking the same question and I kept denying, so they started beating me after three days of investigation. They burned my eyebrows; they touched my eyes with a gas lighter, slapped my cheeks, and beat my ears until blood came out.”
Police reportedly charged Soe Lin at Myaung Mya Township Court and told the judge that he was 16 years old. Later, the headmaster of his primary school informed the court that he was in fact 13 years and 10 months old. After that, he was transferred to a juvenile court in Ein-me Township and eventually released on bail.
A doctor in a hospital in Pathein, the Irrawaddy Division capital, said he had examined Soe Lin’s health condition and confirmed that he was unable to walk, or even stand, by himself.
“His waist bone and pelvis seem to be very painful when he tries to stand up,” said the physician. “He can move them but it hurts him. He should be given a medical check-up, including X-ray scans, and treated properly at a government hospital,” he said.
The Irrawaddy repeatedly contacted Myaung Mya police station seeking commentary on the accusations, but was told several times that the station chief “is out.”
According to Aung Thura, a legal counsel in Pathein who supports Soe Lin, a minor cannot be held in custody during trial under Burmese law, even if he is accused of serious crime. “Policemen are not allowed to put on handcuffs when they arrest a child, even if they are certain that he is the culprit. They can neither put him in custody,” he said.
“But, this boy was tortured and it was an act of lawlessness. Those policemen involved in such lawless activities should be held accountable,” Aung Thura said, adding that he would investigate the torture allegations and counsel the parents on submitting a formal complaint against the police.
Burma’s police force is notorious for its use of torture as a means of interrogating suspects.
The Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC) said in a statement in February that the police force needs to be reformed, as it relies on the “systemic” practice of “extreme” torture of people held on criminal charges.
ALRC said confessions gained through torture were commonly used by Burmese police so that they could present offenders in their criminal investigations. Senior police officers, the courts and administrative officials are all “aware of its occurrence, are involved actively or are complicit,” the group said.