Detained Myanmar Journalists Physically Abused by Karen Border Guard Force

By Zarni Mann 6 March 2020

MANDALAY—Two journalists who were abducted and released by Border Guard Force (BGF) troops in Myawaddy Township, Karen State said they were tortured by the soldiers during interrogation.

Naw Betty Han, a reporter for Frontier Myanmar, and Mar Naw, a photojournalist for Myanmar Times, were detained in the jungle for one day and released Thursday evening.

According to Naw Betty Han, the two were walking near a bridge at Border Gate 1 in Myawaddy and taking a picture of heavy machines building a new casino when the guards of the building compound, wearing black suits and armbands with Chinese letters, detained them.

“They told us to delete the photos and later said we needed to meet a major and called a car,” she said.

The guards forced the two journalists to cover their faces with black masks and drove them to a rubber plantation. There, armed men wearing fatigues with BGF logos on their armbands sat the reporters on the ground and interrogated them.

Mar Naw said the men hit him several times and kicked his face until his nose bled while others tried to cut his long hair and another held a bayonet near the journalist’s neck.

“I apologized to them several times and asked them not to hit me but they didn’t stop. One guy held a bayonet to my neck,” said Mar Naw.

“They hit and kicked Ko Mar Naw but they didn’t hit me. But they aimed their guns at me and cocked the guns,” Naw Betty Han explained to reporters in Myawaddy after she was released on Thursday.

“The guard in plain clothes who stopped us at the construction site is the one who put us in this situation,” Mar Naw added. “We deleted the photos as [the guards] requested but they called the armed group and threatened us like this.”

After the initial interrogation, the two journalists were handcuffed and put into another car, again with black masks covering their eyes. The armed men took them and locked them in a small prison enclosure in the jungle.

Naw Betty Han said she told the men that they were journalists and called out the names of BGF majors and officials who she had previously interviewed.

“They slapped me in my face for calling out their major’s name. They said we took photos of their army outpost. We explained ourselves but they didn’t listen,” she recalled. “We were later put in a different enclosure at about 2 a.m. The next afternoon, they told us to get into the car, put the masks on and we were sent back to an office where we met with the BGF officers and were released.”

Colonel Saw Chit Thu, head of the ethnic Karen BGF, told The Irrawaddy that they are taking action against those who were involved in the incident.

“We gave no instructions to arrest or interrogate any reporters. We arrested the person who was involved in this incident, who went beyond official orders, and they will be punished. I also instructed the troops not to do this in the future,” said Col. Saw Chit Thu.

The Karen State-based BGF, formed in 2010, is a splinter group of the defunct Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and is backed by the military. The group operates businesses in the area, including casinos, and is involved in building the Chinese-backed Shwe Kokko real estate development project. Naw Betty Han has written extensively about them.

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