Five-Year-Old Forced to Endure Stress Positions During Two-Week Detention by Myanmar’s Junta

A five-year-old girl whose father helped organize protests against Myanmar’s junta was forced to endure stress positions during more than two weeks in detention, according to her father, making her what observers say was the country’s youngest known political prisoner under the military regime that seized power in February.

On June 13, security forces in Mandalay region raided the home of Soe Htay, a local activist who had led demonstrations in Mogok city against the junta following its Feb. 1 takeover of Myanmar’s democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

Soe Htay had already gone into hiding with his two sons, and when authorities failed to locate him, they arrested his wife Nan Kyi Kyi Khine and their daughters Theint Sandi Soe, a 17-year-old third-year law student, and Su Htet Waing, a five-year-old girl. Arresting relatives of wanted protesters has been a common practice.

The protests Soe Htay had organized in Mogok were part of a nationwide backlash against the military following its coup, which it said was necessary because the NLD’s landslide victory in the country’s November 2020 elections was the result of widespread voter fraud. Regime leaders have yet to produce any evidence of their claims, while soldiers have violently cracked down on the demonstrations.

According to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the military has killed 898 people and arrested 5,127 in connection with the anti-junta protests. Of those, 2,269—including Su Htet Waing—were freed from prisons across the country as part of a general amnesty on June 30, although observers say the release was little more than a stunt by the military to gain international recognition.

Soe Htay, who was reunited with Su Htet Waing and remains in hiding, recently told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his daughter was left “traumatized” because of the poor treatment she was subjected to during her 18 days in detention.

He said Su Htet Waing told him that she and others were regularly forced to assume the “ponzan” posture—a half-sitting, half-standing stress position—during roll call, and that she “hated the people” who ordered her to do it.

Su Htet Waing “knows nothing about politics” and had only called for the release of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with several other party officials shortly after the military takeover, Soe Htay said.

“She doesn’t understand the politics we were discussing,” the NLD member and leader of the Mogok Township Peace and Open Society told RFA.

Soe Htay said he recently learned from staff at the Mogok Prison that his older daughter is enduring “serious health problems” while she remains in detention. He said that he has had no direct contact with his family members since the day of their arrest.

“My eldest daughter was on medication, suffering from rheumatism when she was arrested. On the day of her arrest, she was taken away with the only clothing she had on, and she didn’t have any of her medicine,” he said.

“She had to kneel down, handcuffed, on the concrete floor for two or three hours during questioning … and now she is in critical condition, according to what a friend in the prison told me.”

Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun for comment on the arrest of Soe Htay’s family members went unanswered Friday.

‘Illegal’ detention

Speaking to RFA this week, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said arresting a five-year-old is “illegal.”

“Even if children under the age of 18 commit crimes, they are not allowed to go to jail. They are not allowed to be held behind bars,” he said.

“Arresting a five-year-old is totally unlawful. It’s a violation of human rights, too. There is nothing this military regime wouldn’t hesitate to do if their hold on power was threatened. Not even children will be spared.”

Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Minister for Women, Youth and Children for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), said Su Htet Waing will be recorded as the youngest political prisoner under the military regime.

“Such arrests constitute war crimes and those responsible must be held accountable,” she said.

“This arrest and detention are a violation of childrens’ rights and the law. The child is too young and can be left deeply traumatized. We are working with professional counselors.”

Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe also condemned what she called “hostage-taking” by the junta, adding that by NUG’s count there are around 80 minors currently in detention.

Soe Htay told RFA he is determined to fight to the end against the military, even though his family has been arrested.

“I am determined to root out this dictatorship,” he said.

“I see the suffering of my daughters and wife as a sacrifice to this revolution. It is from these feelings that I get the strength to fight for a speedy end to the revolution.”

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