In Myanmar, journalists covering anti-coup protests fear for their lives
A live-streamed video of a Myanmar journalist being attacked and shot at in his home by military authorities on the night of March 1 has gone viral, as Myanmar’s military junta violently cracked down on anti-coup demonstrators in the past few days with tear gas, live ammunition and mass arrests. Journalists in particular have found themselves increasingly targeted by security forces – at least nine are currently detained, and at least 30 have been arrested since the anti-coup protests began a month ago.
'If you are shooting like this, how will I come down?'
Happening Now: Junta Terrorist attack the DVB reporter's house brutally . @RapporteurUn @KenRoth @AllianceMilkTea @freya_cole @hrw @TostevinM @poppymcp— Simon Lynn (@simon_lynn11) March 1, 2021
TERRORIST JUNTA #Mar1Coup#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/uTCII4KNbD
Past the 8pm curfew on March 1, reporter Kaung Myat Naing(a) Aung Kyaw of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an independent Myanmar news organisation, began a livestream on the media’s Facebook page as police surrounded his home in southern Myeik and fired at him through his balcony. “Help me please, I also got hurt in the head,” he cries, as shots are heard in the background (the type of bullet used is unknown). “If you are shooting like this, how will I come down?”
Several hours later, DVB published a press release on Twitter saying that Myanmar police have arrested Kaung Myat Naing(a) Aung Kyaw and detained him in an undisclosed location. He had been reporting daily on the anti-military coup protests since the beginning of February, and documented the fatal military crackdowns on demonstrators in Myeik.
Kaung Myat Naing(a) Aung Kyaw isn’t the only journalist who has been attacked and arrested by security forces.
On February 26, a Twitter video shows Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi being arrested as police dispersed a protest in Yangon – the first foreign reporter detained since the start of the military coup. He has since been released from police custody, reported the Japan Times.
A Japanese freelance journalist was detained when police dispersed a protest in Yangon on Friday. The journalist was identified as Yuki Kitazumi, a former reporter for Tokyo-based Nikkei business daily. Here is the video that recorded his arrest#WhatIsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/XntHQcUCOC— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) February 26, 2021
On February 27, another Twitter video shows Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw being arrested in Yangon. Authorities charged him and five other journalists with violating a sedition law against “causing fear among the public, knowingly spreading false news, or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee”, reported the Associated Press. Under this charge, the journalists could be imprisoned for up to three years.
Among the reporters charged and detained was Myanmar Now journalist Kay Zon Nway, who captured the moments leading up to her arrest on Facebook Live. On February 27, in the last two minutes of a livestream video for the news agency, police officers chase down the journalist right before the video cuts out. On March 2, Myanmar Now’s Twitter account reported that Kay Zon Nway was being held at Insein Prison in Yangon and has been denied access to her lawyer.
Salai David, a reporter for the Chinland Post, and Min Nyo, a DVB reporter, are also currently detained by police.
'Many journalists are suffering from trauma'
FRANCE 24 Observers spoke with “Sam” (their name has been changed for security reasons), a journalist at an independent publication in Myanmar:
Right now, working on the ground is dangerous, as the military is targeting journalists, beating and arresting them. Normally, when we’re working, we’ll put a press logo on a helmet or jacket so they can see that we’re professionals, but it’s not always wise. For example, if a police officer sees a journalist live-streaming, he’ll often stop or arrest them.
Journalists also have to guard against police informants in disguise, when taking cars to go home for example. Some taxi drivers are actually informants, and if they see that you’re a journalist, they could take you to jail instead of taking you home. There are also police informants disguised as protesters in the crowds. So I always tell my team to be vigilant and protect themselves. Many journalists also have to “move and hide” – after they cover the protests, they don’t go back to their home and hide somewhere else.
On February 26, reporter Sit Htet Aung posted a photo on Facebook of a policeman running towards him with his baton mid-snap. “Police officer tried to hit me,” reads his caption.
Many journalists are suffering from trauma due to the violence during the protests. But although the coup has endangered the press, I think that it shows you that the real journalists are those who continue to cover the uprising. It’s an important moment in our country’s politics and people need more than ever true information.
Decreasing press freedoms and increasing civilian violence
Of course, it’s not only journalists who are targeted by the military – ordinary people from all walks of life are being beaten and killed. We can’t even call them the military anymore – they’re terrorists. We can’t call on any state forces, not the police, not anyone else, to protect us.
Since February 28, security forces have embarked upon their most violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators since the coup began. The military has been mobilising in cities including Yangon (the largest city in the country), Dawei and Mandalay, using tear gas, live rounds and even slingshots against protesters, and detaining hundreds. As of March 4, at least 50 people have been killed since the coup began, said the United Nations – with 38 fatalities on March 3 alone.