Ye Mon in Thailand. Photo: Supplied by Frontier Myanmar
Ye Mon had always considered the 14th of any month to be a lucky day. He was married on Feb. 14, his son was born on July 14. However, Dec. 14, 2021, would bring this run of good fortune to an abrupt end. In a rare first-person account of abuses conducted inside Myanmar’s military-run prisons, Ye Mon, a journalist with magazine Frontier Myanmar, recalled in excruciating detail the events of that day in December—the day he was raped by junta soldiers.
In the piece published on Friday, he wrote that he was instructed to sexually assault a woman heard crying in the room next door at an interrogation center he was taken to, the location of which he never found out. When he refused, he was told that they would instead do “something” to him. “They asked again: Who were the sources for the article? I told them I couldn’t remember, but they didn’t believe me. That was when they started to rape me. I begged them to stop, but they just told me to be quiet,” he wrote. “It went on for about an hour. I was in shock; I never expected the soldiers would behave like that. It occurred to me that if they were sick enough to rape me, they could kill me at any moment.”
Ye Mon was first detained at Yangon Airport on Dec. 12 last year, and was interrogated about his journalism and connections to Myanmar’s pro-democracy groups. After days of being shuffled back and forth to an interrogation center, where he had endured his physical and sexual assault as soldiers attempted to get him to reveal sources from his stories, he was offered a deal: His charges of incitement and unlawful association would be dropped if he didn’t reveal the conditions of his detention.
“The sense of relief I had expected to feel upon returning home never came… After a few months I decided to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, so I went alone, in secret.”
He reluctantly agreed and was released on Dec. 20.“The sense of relief I had expected to feel upon returning home never came,” he wrote. “After a few months I decided to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, so I went alone, in secret.”“I soon started to think about ending my life. I felt like I had no future, nothing to look forward to. Most of all, I felt alone,” he continued. “Then, in April, I told my wife that I had been raped. This helped immediately – finally, someone else knew what I had been through.”A spokesperson for the mental health assistance program at the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-profit staffed by and assisting former political prisoners in Myanmar, said that sexual violence is an especially potent method of torture used inside junta-run detention centers. “Both men and women suffer from sexual violence and sexual harassment [inside these centers],” he told VICE World News. He added that in the case of men, it’s wielded as an attack on masculinity, resulting in many being unwilling to speak up about their experience during therapy sessions offered by the organisation.“The detainees will be threatened, ‘You will be raped by a man’. It is an attempt to degrade their manhood.” he said. “Some cases [of sexual violence] are very difficult to get from [patients] at the beginning of the sessions.”
Frontier told VICE World News that Ye Mon is not currently doing interviews. But Ben Dunant, the publication’s editor-in-chief, described him as “one of the bravest journalists I know.” “It was hard for Ye Mon to go public about his experience but he was determined to write about it, so that the world wouldn’t be in any doubt about the junta’s crimes,” he told VICE World News. “We’re immensely proud of him at Frontier and will continue to support him.”Myanmar’s military junta, which has held a tight grip over the country’s governance since 1962, deposed the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup d’etat in the early hours of Feb. 1, 2021, accusing it of electoral fraud. The move sparked a nationwide revolt, and military authorities have attempted to brutally suppress a pro-democracy movement that has emerged. Rampant human rights violations have been committed by military forces in the 18 months since, including reports of massacres of civilians and mass arrests and detention. Journalists have also become a target of the paranoid military regime, and as of April this year at least 135 had been imprisoned since the coup, according to local press freedom group Detained Journalists Information Myanmar. The most recent conviction of a journalist came on Thursday, when former BBC presenter Htet Htet Khine was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour by a junta court for “incitement” and “illegal association” for her reporting. She was arrested in August last year, and has been held in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison ever since. “She bravely faced the case that was filed without any evidence,” Htet Htet Khine’s lawyer told RFA Burmese on condition of anonymity after her sentencing. “She was accused of inciting a situation that was already under control.”Htet Htet Khine was arrested alongside Sithu Aung Myint, a columnist with Frontier, who remains in detention facing a possible 20-year prison sentence. Foreign journalists have also been targeted by the junta, including Frontier’s Danny Fenster.The U.S. journalist was arrested at Yangon international airport in May, detained for six months and handed an 11-year prison sentence in November. He was released days later.Follow Alastair McCready on Twitter