Photojournalist Files Lawsuit After Abuse at Nationalist Rally

By San Yamin Aung 12 September 2016

RANGOON — A Burmese photojournalist has filed a lawsuit case against nationalist protesters after he said demonstrators attacked him at a rally on Sunday.

Hundreds of Buddhist nationalists gathered at the Bo Sein Mhan sports grounds in Rangoon’s Bahan Township to protest against the inclusion of international members on the Arakan State Advisory Commission. Demonstrators said that foreigners—like chairperson and former UN chief Kofi Annan—do not belong on a commission looking into an internal issue: ethnoreligious violence and tension in Arakan State.

The protesters also clashed with local Bahan residents who were playing football nearby. Journalists and photographers reported being harassed by the protesters as they attempted to cover the aggression they witnessed in the western corner of the grounds.

Myat Thu Kyaw, a 19-year-old photojournalist from Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, said he was assaulted as he was taking pictures of the fight between the protesters and the locals. He said that the protestors punched him in the cheek, neck and chest amidst the chaos and also threatened him and cursed at him at the event.

“We were also threatened at a previous nationalist event. After discussing it with other photojournalists, we decided to file a case. Because if we don’t do it this time, we are afraid they will harm our lives next time,” Myat Thu Kyaw told reporters at the press conference held on Monday.

It is not the first report of journalists being abused at nationalist rallies. At a demonstration against the death sentence handed to two Burmese migrant workers by a Thai judge in December 2015, Ma Ba Tha—an ultranationalist Buddhist group—supporters encouraged attendees to “beat the reporters” and “skin those guys” when they began covering a quarrel at the rally.

Myat Thu Kyaw said he filed his case at the Bahan Township police station on Sunday night and at the township court on Monday. The court returned the case to the police, with a recommendation to investigate the charges further. The next court hearing regarding the incident will be on Sept. 26.

“Many people were pushing me from behind and also trying to take away my camera, so I didn’t know who punched me. Now I have filed a complaint with the police, so the police have a duty to investigate the attackers. If not, the organizers of the rally need to take responsibility for this,” he said at the press conference.

Aung Naing Soe, a local correspondent from Coconuts Yangon, said that he was also threatened and abused at nationalist rallies, an experience he attributed to the fact that he is a Muslim.

“I don’t want this kind of thing to be repeated,” he said.

The photojournalists at the press conference said that they had video files of the rally as proof of what they experienced, and they want action to be taken in accordance with the law.