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 army’s takeover of the federal government. Few reporters heeded the Orwellian directive, and the junta embraced a brand new objective — crushing all free expression.
Since then, the regime has arrested no less than 56 journalists, outlawed on-line information shops recognized for hard-edge reporting and crippled communications by slicing 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 knowledge sharing in Myanmar have jumped into the fray, calling themselves citizen journalists and risking their lives to assist doc the army’s brutality. They take images and movies with their telephones and share them on-line once they get entry. It’s a position so widespread now they’re recognized merely as “CJs.”
“They’re concentrating on skilled journalists so our nation wants extra CJs,” stated 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 occurring. However I gained’t step again.”
Ms. Thuzar Myat, 21, famous that few individuals have been capable of doc the protests in 1988, when the Tatmadaw, because the army is thought, stamped out a pro-democracy motion by massacring an estimated 3,000 individuals. She stated she noticed it as her obligation to assist seize proof of as we speak’s violence regardless that one soldier had already threatened to kill her if she didn’t cease.
The regime’s obvious objective is to show again the clock to a time when the army 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 era of younger individuals who grew up with the web say they aren’t giving up their freedoms with out a struggle.
“What we’re witnessing is an all-out assault on the facilities of democracy and liberty,” stated U Swe Win, co-founder and editor in chief of Myanmar Now, one of many banned shops. “We’re very involved that Myanmar will change into North Korea. They are going to crush any type of info gathering and sharing.”
The Tatmadaw has a historical past of suppressing opposition. When it seized management in 1962, it reigned for practically 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.
For the reason that Feb. 1 coup, protests have erupted virtually day by day — typically with younger individuals on the forefront — and a broad-based civil disobedience motion has introduced the economic system to a digital halt. In response, troopers and the police have killed no less than 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 1000’s, together with the nation’s civilian chief, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On Thursday, one in every of her attorneys stated she had been charged with violating the official secrets and techniques act, including to a listing of alleged offenses.
Whereas the U.N. Safety Council has not penalized Myanmar’s army, it has spoken in more and more unfavourable phrases in regards to the repression. In an announcement issued Thursday night, the council “expressed deep concern on the quickly deteriorating scenario and strongly condemned the usage of violence towards peaceable protesters and the deaths of tons of of civilians, together with girls and youngsters.”
Whereas the army makes use of state-owned media to unfold its propaganda and hearth off warnings, assaults on journalists have elevated drastically in current weeks, as have arrests.
To maintain from being focused, journalists have stopped sporting 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 printed work and avoiding sleeping in their very own houses. Even so, their professional-quality cameras may give them away.
On the similar time, 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,” stated U Myint Kyaw, who was secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, an unbiased advocacy group for the information media, earlier than quitting in protest in February together with many of the board.
At a current information convention, a spokesman for the junta stated it was as much as journalists to keep away from habits that could possibly be construed as breaking the legislation.
“Solely the journalist’s motion itself can assure that they won’t be arrested,” stated the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun. “If their actions violate the legislation, 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 photos of protests on Saturday in Kyaikto, a city in southern Myanmar, when a soldier shot him within the leg, he stated. 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 stated he believes the soldier who shot him was aiming for his head.
“I had two cameras,” he stated, “so it was apparent that I’m a photojournalist regardless that I had no press helmet or vest.”
“I’m certain that the army junta is concentrating on journalists as a result of they know we’re displaying the world the truth on the bottom they usually wish to cease us by arresting or killing us,” he added.
Of the 56 journalists arrested, half have been launched, in line with 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 no less than 15 who face jail sentences of as much as three years underneath an uncommon legislation that prohibits the dissemination of knowledge that may induce army 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 imprecise and sweeping statute. She has been allowed to fulfill simply as soon as in individual 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 performed only for the sake of ritual,” he stated, including, “We can not count on any truthful 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, stated Mr. Myint Kyaw, the previous press council secretary.
One among 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 may be very dangerous and I’d get shot to demise or arrested,” he stated. “However I imagine I must hold doing it for the sake of getting a report of proof to punish them.”
Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.