Myanmar Regime Searches for People Who Photographed Flooded Bagan Temples

By The Irrawaddy 16 May 2023

The Myanmar military regime is searching for people who shot photos of flooded pagodas in Myanmar’s World Heritage-listed temple city, Bagan, according to local sources.

Heavy rain triggered by Cyclone Mocha at the weekend led to parts of Bagan flooding, with rainwater engulfing some temples. Several ancient temples, including the famous Ananda Temple and Shwezigon Pagoda, were flooded.

District-level junta officials in Mandalay Region’s Nyaung-U told people not to post photos of flooded pagodas on social media, and also ordered staff to search for those who took and posted pictures of flooded temples.

A freelance photographer said: “I have been in hiding as [junta officials] are searching for me for taking pictures of flooded pagodas in Bagan. As people wrote caustic comments on photos posted online, I have had to delete my posts and go into hiding.”

Bagan is situated in Myanmar’s Dry Zone and heavy rain is a serious threat to the centuries-old temples, as there is a risk of damage from damp penetrating into the old brick structures, affecting the existence of the temples.

The reason the authorities are hunting the photographers is unknown but residents suggested the regime must have been upset by pictures showing that the country’s World Heritage Site has been affected by the flooding.

The caustic comments accompanying some social media posts may be another reason. Some commenters said Myanmar faced such a disaster because tyrants are in power, referring to the regime and the heavy rains that deluged the temples, which were the heaviest recorded in the area in 58 years.

A resident of Nyaung-U District said: “We took pictures [of flooded pagodas] as it is our hobby. We have deleted the [Facebook] posts, and we have also deleted the pictures [from our phones and cameras] for fear that [the regime] will do something [bad] to us. They [the regime] only want people to post pictures of them working.”

Junta security personnel are patrolling in cars and on motorbikes across Bagan’s archaeological zone, as well as checking the phones of photographers at pagodas and people spotted at and near pagodas.

Officials of the Bagan branch of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum have been pumping water out of the flooded temples.

Bagan was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in July 2019. The city is home to over 3,000 temples dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries, spanning the rule of some 50 Bagan Dynasty Kings.