Jakarta: The soldiers in rural Myanmar twisted the young man’s skin with pliers and kicked him in the chest until he couldn’t breathe. Then they taunted him about his family until his heart ached, too: Your mom, they jeered, cannot save you anymore.

The young man and his friend, randomly arrested as they rode their bikes home, were subjected to hours of agony inside a town hall transformed by the military into a torture center.

As the interrogators’ blows rained down, their relentless questions tumbled through his mind. “There was no break, it was constant,” he says.

“I was thinking only of my mom.”

Since its takeover of the government in February, the Myanmar military has been torturing detainees across the country in a methodical and systemic way, The Associated Press has found in interviews with 28 people imprisoned and released in recent months.

Based also on photographic evidence, sketches and letters, along with testimony from three recently defected military officials, AP’s investigation provides the most comprehensive look since the takeover into a highly secretive detention system that has held more than 9,000 people.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, and police have killed more than 1,200 people since February. While most of the torture has occurred inside military compounds, the Tatmadaw also has transformed public facilities such as community halls and a royal palace into interrogation centers, prisoners said.

The AP identified a dozen interrogation centers in use across Myanmar, in addition to prisons and police lockups, based on interviews and satellite imagery. The prisoners came from every corner of the country and from various ethnic groups, and ranged from a 16-year-old girl to monks.

Some were detained for protesting against the military, others for no discernible reason. Multiple military units and police were involved in the interrogations, their methods of torture similar across Myanmar.

The AP is withholding the prisoners’ names, or using partial names, to protect them from retaliation by the military. Inside the town hall that night, soldiers forced the young man to kneel on sharp rocks, shoved a gun in his mouth and rolled a baton over his shinbones.

They slapped him in the face with his own Nike flip flops. Tell me! Tell me! they shouted. What should I tell you? he replied helplessly. He refused to scream. But his friend screamed on his behalf, after realizing it calmed the interrogators. I’m going to die, he told himself, stars exploding before his eyes. I love you, mom.’

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