Nathan Maung, a Myanmar-born American journalist, was arrested on March 9. He says dozens of soldiers raided the Yangon office of his online news platform, Kamayut Media.
"They broke our office doors and pointed guns at us. They told us to lower our heads," he says. "They took our office materials. Every single camera, computer, furniture — everything."
They also arrested his colleague and Kamayut Media co-founder Han Thar Nyein and took them both, blindfolded, to a military-run interrogation center where, Nathan Maung says, "the terror began."
Blindfolded and tortured
"Two soldiers took me to a dark room," he says. "They interrogated me for three-and-a-half days non-stop without sleeping. No water for two days. I was sitting on a chair all the time with my hands cuffed at the back."
They asked him about his personal history, his media activities, his birth year, hometown, which school he went to. Throughout the interrogation, he was blindfolded and his captors were beating him.
Nathan Maung says two men would stand either side of him and slam their palms against his eardrums: "BAM! BAM! BAM! all the time." He says he can no longer see clearly out of his left eye as a result of the beating.
His interrogators became even more angry when Nathan Maung told them he had been a refugee in Thailand long ago before moving to the United States. They demanded to know why he had fled Myanmar all those years ago.
Nathan Maung found out later that his colleague, Han Thar Nyein, had been subjected to much worse because of his ties to members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. "There are a lot of photos of him with Aung San Suu Kyi and with former president Htin Kyaw. And they saw the pictures, so he got beaten," Nathan Maung says. "They burned his skin with a cigarette. And there was a big ice block put on his legs for 24 hours."
The military wanted access to Han Thar Nyein's cell phone. He resisted giving them his passcode until, says Nathan Maung, they demanded he strip naked and threatened to rape him.
They were held in the interrogation center for 15 days before they were charged with spreading false information and sent to Insein Prison, which is known for its overcrowded and inhumane conditions. Han Thar Nyein is still there, where according to Nathan Maung he is being held in solitary confinement.
Han Thar Nyein knew that his activities would make him a target. Before his arrest he was reporting on the anti-coup protests and spoke to NHK on several occasions. On March 8, one day before he was detained, he sent a message saying "If I get arrested, please tell the world."
Nathan Maung was released on June 14 and deported to the US the following day. The charge against him was dropped, but he says he cannot enjoy his freedom and is consumed by guilt for leaving his friend behind.
"Honestly, I really want to go back to the prison," he says, and explains that he doesn't want to be free while the people of Myanmar are effectively imprisoned under "a brutal regime."
"I pray every day for Han Thar and other journalists. And I would like to call the international community and journalists to help them to be free."
Nathan Maung believes the cruelty he and his colleague endured is just the tip of an iceberg of violence against critics and minority ethnic groups.
"The military are killing their own people," he says. "There's a systematic brutality."
And though he has been told he will never be allowed back into his motherland, Nathan Maung says he will continue the fight for freedom from outside the country.