Myanmar photographer dies in military custody

Reuters

Posted at Dec 15 2021 06:00 PM

A demonstrator shows the three-finger salute during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 21, 2021. Reuters/file
A demonstrator shows the three-finger salute during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 21, 2021. Reuters/file

A photographer detained after an anti-coup protest in Myanmar's biggest city last week has died while in custody, according to accounts from his friends, media reports and an advocacy group.

Soe Naing, who trained as a graphic designer and started documenting demonstrations after the military seized power in February, was detained last Friday while taking photographs of deserted Yangon streets during a "silent strike" protest.

A friend of Soe Naing, who asked not to be identified due to safety concerns, said they had been told about the death but had not seen his body.

Reports about his death first appeared on social media and news portals on Tuesday. The US-funded Radio Free Asia reported the death was confirmed by family members, citing sources close to Soe Naing.

A spokesperson for Myanmar's ruling military did not answer calls seeking comment on the reports.

Relatives of Soe Naing, who is in his 30s and married with a son, could not be reached for comment.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the military ousted the civilian government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, triggering protests and conflict in the countryside between anti-junta militia and the army.

Since the coup, there has been a rise so-called "citizen journalists" documenting often violent protests to get their message out to the world. Soe Naing had provided content to media outlets for free.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a monitoring group cited by the United Nations, says more than 1,300 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and 10,900 civilians detained. Those include dozens of journalists, with about 40 still held, AAPP said.

The military has said AAPP's figures are exaggerated.

Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said he died under interrogation. The report cited sources including a relative.

It called on the international community to "condemn the escalation in terror against reporters covering the news in Myanmar and implement targeted sanctions against the generals."

There have been previous reports of people dying in custody after being detained, including officials from Suu Kyi's party, thought no confirmed cases of journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Myanmar as the world's second-worst jailer of journalists after China.