Myanmar Troopers, Aiming to Silence Protests, Goal Journalists

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Ten days after seizing energy in Myanmar, the generals issued their first command to journalists: Cease utilizing the phrases “coup,” “regime” and “junta” to explain the navy’s takeover of the federal government. Few reporters heeded the Orwellian directive, and the junta embraced a brand new aim — crushing all free expression.

Since then, the regime has arrested at the very least 56 journalists, outlawed on-line information retailers identified for hard-edge reporting and crippled communications by reducing off cellular information service. Three photojournalists have been shot and wounded whereas taking images of the anti-coup demonstrations.

With skilled journalists underneath stress, many younger individuals who got here of age throughout a decade of social media and data sharing in Myanmar have jumped into the fray, calling themselves citizen journalists and risking their lives to assist doc the navy’s brutality. They take images and movies with their telephones and share them on-line after they get entry. It’s a function so frequent now they’re identified merely as “CJs.”

“They’re concentrating on skilled journalists so our nation wants extra CJs,” mentioned Ma Thuzar Myat, one of many citizen journalists. “I do know I’d get killed sooner or later for taking a video report of what’s taking place. However I gained’t step again.”

Ms. Thuzar Myat, 21, famous that few individuals have been in a position to doc the protests in 1988, when the Tatmadaw, because the navy is thought, stamped out a pro-democracy motion by massacring an estimated 3,000 individuals. She mentioned she noticed it as her obligation to assist seize proof of at the moment’s violence although one soldier had already threatened to kill her if she didn’t cease.

The regime’s obvious aim is to show again the clock to a time when the navy dominated the nation, the media was firmly in its grip and solely the wealthiest individuals had entry to cellphones and the web. However the brand new technology of younger individuals who grew up with the web say they don’t seem to be giving up their freedoms with no struggle.

“What we’re witnessing is an all-out assault on the facilities of democracy and liberty,” mentioned U Swe Win, co-founder and editor in chief of Myanmar Now, one of many banned retailers. “We’re very involved that Myanmar will change into North Korea. They are going to crush any type of data gathering and sharing.”

The Tatmadaw has a historical past of suppressing opposition. When it seized management in 1962, it reigned for almost half a century earlier than deciding to share energy with elected civilian leaders and opening the nation to the skin world.

In 2012, underneath a brand new quasi-civilian authorities, cheap cellphones started flooding in and Fb grew to become the dominant on-line discussion board. A vibrant media sprouted on-line and newsstands overflowed with competing papers.

Because the Feb. 1 coup, protests have erupted virtually every day — usually with younger individuals on the forefront — and a broad-based civil disobedience motion has introduced the financial system to a digital halt. In response, troopers and the police have killed at the very least 536 individuals.

On the United Nations on Wednesday, the particular envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, warned that “a blood bathtub is imminent.” The regime has arrested hundreds, together with the nation’s civilian chief, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On Thursday, one among her legal professionals mentioned she had been charged with violating the official secrets and techniques act, including to an inventory of alleged offenses.

Whereas the navy makes use of state-owned media to unfold its propaganda and fireplace off warnings, assaults on journalists have elevated drastically in latest weeks, as have arrests.

To maintain from being focused, journalists have stopped carrying helmets or vests emblazoned with the phrase “PRESS” and attempt to mix in with the protesters. Many additionally hold a low profile by not receiving credit score for his or her revealed work and avoiding sleeping in their very own properties. Even so, their professional-quality cameras can provide them away.

Being stopped on the streets can pose one other danger. Troopers and the police routinely search civilians’ telephones for protest images or movies.

“If you’re arrested with video clips, you’ll be able to go to jail,” mentioned U Myint Kyaw, who was secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, an impartial advocacy group for the information media, earlier than quitting in protest in February together with many of the board.

At a latest information convention, a spokesman for the junta mentioned it was as much as journalists to keep away from conduct that may very well be construed as breaking the regulation.

“Solely the journalist’s motion itself can assure that they won’t be arrested,” mentioned the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun. “If their actions violate the regulation, then they are going to be arrested.” All three journalists who’ve been shot and wounded say they have been focused by safety forces.

The freelance journalist Ko Htet Myat Thu, 24, was taking footage of protests on Saturday in Kyaikto, a city in southern Myanmar, when a soldier shot him within the leg, he mentioned. A video of his arrest taken by a citizen journalist from a close-by constructing reveals troopers beating him and forcing him to hop on his good leg as they lead him away.

One other photojournalist shot that day, U Si Thu, 36, was hit in his left hand as he was holding his digicam to his face and photographing troopers in Mandalay, the nation’s second-largest metropolis. He mentioned he believes the soldier who shot him was aiming for his head.

“I had two cameras,” he mentioned, “so it was apparent that I’m a photojournalist although I had no press helmet or vest.”

“I’m certain that the navy junta is concentrating on journalists as a result of they know we’re exhibiting the world the fact on the bottom and so they need to cease us by arresting or killing us,” he added.

Of the 56 journalists arrested, half have been launched, based on a bunch that’s monitoring arrests. Amongst these freed have been reporters for The Related Press and the BBC.

However 28 stay in custody, together with at the very least 15 who face jail sentences of as much as three years underneath an uncommon regulation that prohibits the dissemination of knowledge which may induce navy officers to ignore or fail of their duties.

Ma Kay Zon Nway, 27, a reporter for Myanmar Now, stay streamed her personal arrest in late February as she was working from the police in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest metropolis. Her video reveals the police firing within the air as protesters flee. The sound of her labored respiration is audible because the police catch up and take her away.

She is amongst those that have been charged underneath the obscure and sweeping statute. She has been allowed to satisfy simply as soon as in particular person together with her lawyer.

Mr. Swe Win, the Myanmar Now editor, himself served seven years in jail for protesting in 1998. “All these court docket proceedings are being finished only for the sake of ritual,” he mentioned, including, “We can not anticipate any honest remedy.”

With cellular communications blocked, Fb banned and nightly web shutdowns, Myanmar’s mainstream media has come to depend on citizen journalists for movies and information ideas, mentioned Mr. Myint Kyaw, the previous press council secretary.

Certainly one of them, Ko Aung Aung Kyaw, 26, was taking movies of the police arresting individuals in his Yangon neighborhood when an officer noticed him. The officer swore at him, aimed his rifle and fired, Mr. Aung Aung Kyaw’s video reveals.

The bullet hit a wall in entrance of him.

“I do know that recording these sorts of issues could be very dangerous and I’d get shot to dying or arrested,” he mentioned. “However I consider I must hold doing it for the sake of getting a report of proof to punish them.”

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