In 2021, Myanmar journalists risked lives to tell world of coup

On March 8, journalists Nathan Maung and Hanthar Nyein went to their office in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, in a bid to salvage some equipment, fearing the country’s new military rulers would soon order a raid on Kamayut Media, an online news publication the two men had co-founded.

“We thought they would raid the office in the evening or at night. If we had 30 more minutes we could have escaped,” said Maung, a Myanmar-born citizen of the United States.

“No one explained anything. They just asked my name and age, took a picture, put a blindfold over our heads, put us in a cop car and drove 30 minutes. And then our torture began,” he said.

Maung said security forces blindfolded him and beat him severely for the first three to four days. He was not allowed to sleep or eat, and the beatings only diminished after they discovered he was a US citizen. His blindfold was removed after eight days.

The 44-year-old spent three months in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison before being released.

Hanthar Nyein, who turned 40 on Christmas Day, remains in detention.

“I really hate to see that he’s [spending] his 40th birthday in prison, it’s very hard for me and his family. He hasn’t seen his nephew’s face yet, who was born in April,” said Maung.

Journalist killed

The pair were among more than 100 journalists who were arrested after Myanmar’s military seized power on February 1, citing fraud in the election that returned the National League for Democracy (NLD) to power in November 2020. The coup triggered widespread mass protests, which the military cracked down on using lethal force, killing hundreds of people and eventually provoking an armed uprising against its rule.

Throughout this societal collapse, Myanmar’s journalists have risked their lives and their freedoms to document the human rights abuses committed by the military.

On December 14, freelance photographer Soe Naing became the first journalist to be killed since the coup, reportedly dying during a “violent interrogation” while in military custody.

Myanmar has also been ranked the second-worst jailer of journalists in the world this year, behind only China, with 26 confirmed in prison as of December.

“The situation is even more dire than this total suggests,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the group behind the ranking.

“Many journalists, among them American Danny Fenster, were released ahead of the census count after months in prison and CPJ’s research suggests there may be others in custody yet to be identified as reporters.”

Fenster, who was working for the Frontier Myanmar magazine, was arrested in March and released in November, receiving a pardon days after being handed an 11-year jail sentence.

Other foreign journalists who were arrested and released include Polish journalist Robert Bociaga, who was reportedly beaten and detained while covering a protest in Shan State in March and deported two weeks later.

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