Photographer Barred From Shooting Controversial Construction Site in Rangoon

By The Irrawaddy 31 May 2016

RANGOON — On Tuesday, a photographer from The Irrawaddy was prevented from photographing a construction site that is set to be reviewed by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), after questions were raised about the project in the Rangoon divisional parliament on the previous day.

The planned 12-story building is located at the corner of Khayaypin Road and Ahlone Road, Dagon Township, near the compound where the Rangoon Divisional Government, Parliament and Chief Minister Residence are located.

The project is set to be reviewed by YCDC due to its close proximity to the government buildings, said Rangoon Mayor Maung Maung Soe during the divisional parliament session on Monday in response to a lawmaker who questioned whether the project was in accordance with YCDC regulations. The building was approved by the previous divisional government in 2013.

Myo Min Soe, an Irrawaddy photojournalist, was assigned to take pictures of the ongoing Manawhari Commercial Complex construction site, which is being developed by the Waminn Group of Companies.

The photographer said he was taking pictures from the sidewalk across the street from the site, when he was accosted by people wearing helmets and safety vests who appeared to be working at the location.

“I just took two or three frames and two guys arrived and asked me, ‘Why did you take pictures without permission?’” he said.

More men from the site joined in and soon the photographer was surrounded. Men shouted, “Don’t let him go.”

The photographer managed to take refuge in a parliament security booth nearby while nearly 15 people from the site waited outside. They were blocked by the security guards from going inside, but they then took pictures of the photographer from outside the booth.

“Were it not for the security booth there, I don’t know what would have happened to me because some of the men looked really serious,” he said.

“Why should I need to ask permission when I am just taking photos from a public space? What are they afraid of? Are they doing something unlawful? Is the site concerned with state security? Are they trying to threaten the media?” he asked.

The move came a few days after another event considered to be an attack on press freedom. A reporter from a local news agency was obstructed by nationalist monks while he was trying to cover a meeting between the monks and the management of the luxury Sedona Hotel in Rangoon on Thursday.

Myint Kyaw, a Myanmar Press Council member, said taking a picture in a public space should not be considered off-limits.

“If [the construction company] wants to take action, they could make an official complaint if there is something defaming them in the story,” he said. “Now there is no story yet, and preventing someone from taking pictures from a sidewalk is a threat to the media.”

The Irrawaddy has submitted an official complaint about restrictions to the Dagon Township Police Station.