Challenged by Uprising, Myanmar Junta Cracks Down Harder

Thousands of innocent people killed. Tens of thousands more pro-democracy protesters locked up. The return of military rule has wreaked havoc in Myanmar in recent years.

Now the junta is growing increasingly brutal as a rebel uprising has gained ground in the countryside.

It has put new effort into imprisoning dissidents and the men and women who refuse to join its forces. And it is meting out increasingly lethal treatment to those already in custody. In the first two months of the year, more than 100 prisoners perished, either from torture or neglect, human rights groups and former detainees say. Conditions in military-run prisons have deteriorated further, they say, with prisoners being deprived of food, proper sanitation and health care, and facing horrific torture.

“Since November, conditions have been getting worse and worse,” said Myar Reh, a pro-democracy student activist who was released from a prison in Karenni State in January after being held for nearly three years. “They punched me in the face, hit me with the butt of the gun. My whole body was covered in blood. They also threatened to shoot me in the head, and shot live rounds beside my head.”

Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the military spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.

In February, the military announced a mandatory draft, in a sign it was on the defensive. That order could be used as a pretext by the military to launch a new campaign of arrests because anyone resisting conscription faces up to five years in prison.

The junta has said that it will start clearing out prisons, releasing thousands of detainees. But any such freedom is likely to be temporary: Rights groups point out that last year, the junta made similar “amnesties,” but soon went on to rearrest many of those released.

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