Photographer levels charges against nationalist protesters after confrontation

By SU MYAT MON| FRONTIER

YANGON — Local photojournalist Ko Myat Thu Kyaw says he has pressed charges against a group of men who allegedly attacked him on Sunday after tensions boiled over during a political rally at Bahan’s Bo Sein Hman sports ground.

Myat Thu Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, told reporters on Monday he was accosted by the men while covering a nationalist protest against the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

The photographer had raced to capture photos of a confrontation between demonstrators and local residents, who had been loudly heckling the protest after police blocked access to the football field.

Myat Thu Kyaw said he was grabbed and punched in his face, chest and back while others around the group shouted abuse and urged his attackers to “kill him”.

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After he was let go, reporters in the vicinity raced to question him, leading to further threats from the protesters, who attempted to confiscate the press accreditation of some journalists.

“In the meantime, one of the protesters came brandishing a stick and urging others to restrain me,” said Myat Thu Kyaw, adding that the police reached the scene and intervened before he could be attacked again.

The reporter went to Bahan Police Station on Sunday evening to file a case against his assailants, but was told instead to open a complaint at the township court.

The complaint was later referred back to the police station by the presiding judge and a decision on whether to proceed is expected by September 26, Myat Thu Kyaw said.

“We don’t want anyone to be imprisoned, but we just want to give them the message that if they act like this to reporters they can be sued,” he said.

Sunday’s rally was the latest in a series of protests against the Rakhine Commission, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, since it was announced by the Union government last month.

Demonstrators also carried signs condemning Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, who has spoken out repeatedly against notorious Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha, or the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, and Mandalay Chief Minister Zaw Myint Maung, who recently found himself embroiled in controversy for saying there was no need for schoolchildren to be taught “national songs”.

Ko Aung Naing Soe, a reporter from Coconuts Yangon who accompanied Myat Thu Kyaw to the police station, told reporters at Monday’s press conference that journalists covering nationalist demonstrations were at constant risk of violence.

Aung Naing Soe, a Muslim, said that he had been threatened several times since a prominent protester alleged he was the mastermind behind a demonstration in Hledan earlier this year, in which masked participants protested against racism and extreme nationalist groups.

“When I write the news, even if I am Muslim, I don’t have any echo of my race and religion. I just stand on my profession,” he said.

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