BANGKOK—When Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai was shot dead by Myanmar troops as he covered anti-military protests in 2007, his video camera disappeared, along with the last images he filmed.
On Wednesday, 16 years and a secret journey out of Myanmar later, the camera and its contents were handed back to his family, who hope the footage will hold clues to the final moments of his life.
Nagai had traveled to Myanmar to cover monk-led demonstrations against the then-junta for APF News, a small Tokyo-based agency that specializes in reports from danger zones.
He was killed on Sept. 27, 2007 after troops opened fire on demonstrators near Yangon’s famous Sule Pagoda, bringing renewed international attention to the generals’ brutal crackdown.
A photo of Nagai lying on the road, a soldier in combat uniform and sandals standing over him and holding a gun, won a Pulitzer prize in 2008.
Nagai’s sister Noriko Ogawa said on Wednesday she was “thrilled and filled with joy” to have retrieved her brother’s camera.
She had given up hope of ever seeing the footage, she said, after Myanmar authorities ignored her request to return it to her.
“I think my brother was waiting for this day too,” she said.
“I want to bring it to his grave.”
Nobody has been charged in relation to Nagai’s death and Myanmar officials claimed the killing was an “accident”.
But an autopsy conducted in Japan showed that Nagai was likely shot dead from close range—around 1 m.
Footage retrieved from Nagai’s camera was shown to media for the first time on Wednesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok.
It shows a huge crowd of demonstrators singing songs in downtown Yangon, facing off against police and soldiers carrying wicker riot shields and rifles.
Some hoist flags bearing the peacock symbol of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
Protesters bow before a line of saffron-robed monks and a young child is seen collecting used plastic water bottles from the crowd.
A convoy of green army trucks filled with troops then arrives at the scene to jeers and cries from the demonstrators.
Nagai turns the camera on himself and points to the trucks.
His last words in the footage are: “The army has just arrived. The army is over there. They are heavily armed.”
‘Reveal the truth’
The camera was obtained by journalists from Myanmar news outlet the Democratic Voice of Burma.
Its chief editor Aye Chan Naing said he could not go into detail about how they obtained the camera, in order to protect sources in Myanmar, which is once again under military rule.
We “got it from a good citizen who knows what is right and what is wrong”, he said.
The outlet obtained the camera before the military’s latest coup in 2021 that has plunged the country into turmoil.
Since then at least 170 journalists have been arrested in the junta’s crackdown on dissent, according to the United Nations, and dozens of independent media outlets—including DVB—have been banned.
They include Japanese journalist Toru Kubota who spent three-and-a-half months in prison last year after being detained near an anti-government rally in Yangon.
Ogawa said her family would submit the footage to authorities in Japan as “evidence” against the Myanmar military’s assertion that her brother’s killing was an accident.
“We will continue demanding that Myanmar’s government reveal the truth… At this time, I want the world to focus on Myanmar again,” she said.