SEPTEMBER 2007 PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT

SEPTEMBER 2007 PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT

On September 27, 2007, in a government crackdown troops opened fire on demonstrators and raided Buddhist monasteries. The Myanmar government said 10 people were killed and 2,972 arrested. The United Nations reported 31 were killed. Activist groups said the death toll and number of arrests were higher. They have said as many 200 may have been killed. It was the strongest use of force since the 1988 demonstrations.

Myanmar soldiers clubbed and dragged away activists while firing tear gas and warning shots to break up demonstrations. There were also reports of snipers firing directly at protesters. The government cut Internet access; a Japanese photographer was shot and killed. Troops also occupied Buddhist monasteries in a bid to clear the streets of monks, who have led the demonstrations.

Rosalind Russell wrote in The Independent: “The scale of the crackdown remains undocumented. The regime has banned journalists from entering Burma and has blocked internet access and phone lines. Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK says the number of dead is possibly in the hundreds. "The regime covers up its atrocities. We will never know the true numbers," he said. Exile groups estimate the number of detentions between 6,000 and 10,000. [Source: Rosalind Russell, The Independent UK, October 11, 2007]

Rumors circulated in the Thailand-based Burmese-exile community Myanmar’s military leader Than Shwe sent his close family members to Bangkok in case the protests spiral out of control. He more had the most to lose if the growing protest movement led to forced regime change. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007]

Troops Move into Yangon

As the monk-led protests in Yangon ramped up there were widespread reports at the time that a battle-hardened Burmese army unit was moved into Rangoon to put down the protests. Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “ Pan Cha said that on the second day of the protests, he saw soldiers clapping as the procession passed their post. He said he learned that night that Senior Gen. Than Shwe, head of the junta, had issued an order to shoot the protesters but that the local official said he would not follow the order. On Sept. 26, Pan Cha said, he received word that a different army unit, from the 66th Division, which for years had battled ethnic minority rebels from Karen state, had been brought to Rangoon. That day, the violence began. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 26, 2007]

Describing events on September 25, Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “The crackdown starts slowly. Several well-known democracy activists are arrested overnight. Aung Way goes into hiding. Guiltily, I retrieve his poem. "We want freedom," it reads. "We want friendship between our army and our people." The New Light of Myanmar, a junta newspaper, blames the violence on "hot-blooded monks" who "are jealous of national development and stability." Still, the monks march. The demonstrations are so large that downtown Rangoon has a carnival atmosphere. Students have now joined the march, waving red flags bearing their emblem, the fighting peacock. At the rear of the column is a group of shaven-headed Buddhist nuns in their bubble-gum-pink robes. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]

AP reported: “Truckloads of soldiers have moved into Rangoon amid reports of a general troop buildup. Their arrival followed announcements by the junta earlier in the day warning monks not to take part in anti-government demonstrations and the public to stay at home or risk arrest. Two army divisions were either already in or moving toward Rangoon from outlying areas, including the 22nd, which took part in the suppression of the 1988 uprising, according to diplomats. The 77th Division was already in Rangoon but not yet deployed, according to one diplomat in the city who asked to remain anonymous. Rumours swirled through Rangoon that the troops had been ordered to shoot protesters and that some soldiers had shaved their heads to imitate monks and were attempting infiltrate the protest to spark violence that would then lead to a government crackdown. [Source: AP, September 25, 2007]

Monk Protests in Yangon Turn Violent on September 26

Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “The violence began September 26. Army troops from the regiment newly arrived from outside Rangoon, as well as police, surrounded the monks who had gathered at Shwedagon Pagoda to start their march. All four corners of the pagoda grounds were blocked. A group of monks sat down in an attempt to begin negotiations to defuse the situation. "They started to pray, but the police just started beating them," Pan Cha said. Instantly, 50 to 100 police officers jumped from hiding places wielding wooden batons. A loudspeaker started blaring, telling people to go away. But there was nowhere to run; soldiers and police blocked all the exits. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 26, 2007 ~]

“Ashin Kovida felt the blow to his belly before he saw the stick coming. He was one of the seated monks and had raised his praying hands to his forehead as he chanted the Buddhist mantra for peace. As he doubled over from the blow, he saw novice monks trying to scramble up a high wall behind them. "People were trying to escape by climbing that wall, but the police were pulling them down and kicking them, even a girl." Next, Ashin Kovida felt the tear gas. "I wondered if I might die when I was being beaten," he said. "I had never seen anything like that before." He ran to the wall and climbed over, dropping onto the ground at his Nan Oo monastery, next door to the pagoda. He and others climbed the wall on the other side and saw masses of people, their way into the pagoda complex blocked by troops. He called to them to turn and walk the other way, into the street and toward Sule Pagoda. He soon had a group of about 1,000 following him. Ashin Kovida did not reach Sule Pagoda. Too many roads were blocked. He decided to go home to his monastery, a small one that had not yet been raided by police. ~

“Pan Cha, meanwhile, tried to march a group to the Chinese Embassy to protest the bloodshed, but the roads were blocked. Police started beating the protesters and dragging them to trucks. Pan Cha was pulled into a house by people trying to protect him. They gave him clean clothes and took his bloodstained ones, then took him behind the house and helped him escape...Pan Cha said he saw snipers shoot and kill six monks directly in front of him at the Shwedagon Pagoda on Sept. 26, and he saw others killed and hundreds beaten and dragged into trucks. "I cannot imagine how many people were hurt," he said. "Blood was like a stream of water" running down the pagoda road. ~

Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “The Shwedagon's eastern gate is locked and guarded by soldiers and riot police, who are confronted by hundreds of angry monks and students. It is around noon, and the battle for the Shwedagon is about to begin. There are explosions--of smoke bombs, meant to shock and disorient--and the riot police charge, striking the protesters with canes. The monks and students fight back, and soon there is the unmistakable crackle of live ammunition; the soldiers are shooting above our heads. "They are not Buddhists," rages Thurein, 24, a student, who is clutching half a brick and running from the smoke. "They are not humans. Tell the world. We were praying peacefully, and they beat us." The monks dress their wounds and begin their march downtown. They are pursued by trucks full of soldiers, who are jeered and pelted with rocks as they approach the Sule Pagoda. Again the soldiers fire over the protesters' heads. As dusk approaches, the crowds disperse. Nighttime Rangoon is usually a vibrant place, its sidewalks crowded with tea shops. Now nobody wants to be out after dark. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]

AFP reported: “At least three monks were killed in clashes with Burma's security forces who cracked down on anti-government protests in Rangoon, two officials told AFP. "According to the information that we received, at least three monks were killed,'' one Burmese official told AFP on condition of anonymity. One monk was killed when a gun went off as he tried to wrestle the weapon away from a soldier, while two others were beaten to death, the official said. His account was confirmed by a second official, who said the toll was based on official reports of incidents that took place around the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's holiest site and a key rallying point for the monks. There are also reports that over 100 people have been injured. [Source: AFP, September 26, 2007]

September 27th Protest

Associated Press reported: “About 10 000 anti-government protestors gathered in downtown Yangon yesterday, provoking soldiers to fire on the crowds with tear gas and resume the crackdown. The demonstrators gathered at Sule Pagoda and shouted at the soldiers, angry about early morning raids by security forces on Buddhist monasteries. Soldiers reportedly beat up and arrested more than 100 monks, who have spearheaded the largest challenge to the junta since a failed uprising in Myanmar, also known as Burma, since 1988. [Source: AP, September 27, 2007 <>]

“Myanmar's state-run newspaper yesterday blamed 'saboteurs inside and outside the nation' for causing the protests in Yangon, and said the demonstrations were much smaller than the media are reporting. "Saboteurs from inside and outside the nation and some foreign radio stations, who are jealous of national peace and development, have been making instigative acts through lies to cause internal instability and civil commotion," said The New Light of Myanmar, which serves as a mouthpiece for the military government.” <>

Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “Only a handful of monks escape the junta's dragnet to join that day's demonstration near the Sule Pagoda. But there are thousands of protesters when I arrive. More military trucks pull up at the intersection, and the troops inside noisily cock their rifles. The crowd tenses as one. Seconds later, there are more smoke bombs, and we are running for our lives. We run along the streets, keeping low, chased by the sound of gunfire. Not far from where I was standing lies the body of Japanese photographer Kenji Nagai, shot dead by a soldier at point-blank range. Riot police are marching north up Sule Pagoda Road, banging truncheons against shields. Behind them is an even more menacing sight: hundreds of troops marching in formation. Between the two groups is a truck with loudspeakers that announce the street is to be cleared. Miraculously, despite the bloodshed, people are still protesting, still chanting their defiant mantra: Let everyone be free from harm .[Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007 >>]

“You should get closer," says the young woman in the crowd behind me. "If foreigners are here, they won't shoot." It's about 1 p.m. on Sept. 27, and I am wedged among thousands of pro-democracy protesters near the gold-domed Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon. Facing us are hundreds of soldiers and riot police, who look on edge as they finger their assault rifles. The woman behind me is hoping that they won't want to create an international incident by firing on a scruffy-looking Brit, and that my presence will protect the protesters. She will soon be proved terribly wrong. But for the moment, the protesters appear undaunted, even jubilant. They are chanting a Buddhist mantra whose melody will haunt me for days to come: Let everyone be free from harm; Let everyone be free from anger; Let everyone be free from hardship. >>

“It was the Buddhist monks who first sang this mantra. For a week now, they have been marching through these streets, calling peacefully for change in a country that has been ruled for almost a half-century by a barbaric military junta.Burma's monkhood and military are roughly the same size--each has 300,000 to 400,000 men--but there the similarities end. With the monks preaching tolerance and peace and the military demanding obedience at gunpoint, these protests pit Burma's most beloved institution against its most reviled. >>

“"Get closer," the young woman urges. The troops are a hundred yards away, and I think that's close enough. I'm mindful of reports that just last night the military raided more than a dozen monasteries, beating and arresting hundreds of monks. And I know that soldiers like these snuffed out Burma's last great pro-democracy uprising in 1988, killing and injuring thousands. I know they will not hesitate to shoot, whether or not there's a foreigner present. Sure enough, seconds later they open fire. From that moment on, the world's most unlikely uprising--with its vivid images of marching monks and exuberant students, of golden pagodas and rain-drenched streets--feels doomed.” >>

Associated Press also reported: “In Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, about 50 monks confronted soldiers when they tried to block the Buddhist clergy from marching out of a monastery. About 100 onlookers shouted and jeered at the soldiers. Also yesterday, security forces arrested Myint Thein, the spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, family members said.

Violent Crackdown in Yangon on September 27, 2007

On September 27, soldiers and security forces fired automatic weapons into a crowd of of anti-government demonstrators, killing at least nine people . The Guardian reported: “Soldiers fired automatic weapons at protesters in Rangoon today, in Burma's main city, reports said. The deaths came as thousands of demonstrators defied an increasingly violent government crackdown on public protests. State media reported that nine people had been killed and a further 11 injured. A Japanese photojournalist was among the latest confirmed fatalities, the Japanese embassy said. Witnesses said a man had fallen when shots were fired by security forces charging a crowd of 1,000 protesters. Embassy officials said Burmese diplomats had informed them that the photojournalist was one of several people found dead. [Source: Ian MacKinnon, Mark Tran, The Guardian and agencies, September 27, 2007 <<]

“The deaths came as troops with loudspeakers told people they had 10 minutes to go home or risk being shot. Witnesses later told the Associated Press that soldiers fired directly into a crowd near a bridge before arresting and severely beating five men. Earlier, anti-government protesters squared off against soldiers amid anger at early morning raids on Buddhist monasteries by security forces. <<

“However, Burmese exiles in Thailand said some soldiers had formed a group called the Public Patriotic Army Association to declare their support for the monks and opposition to the military junta. In a brief statement, made following a secret meeting on Tuesday and obtained by Guardian Unlimited, the group said: "The aim of building up the armed forces should be to protect the people's lives and property and to fight the enemies of the people. "In this emergency, we encourage you to join the Public Patriotic Army Association and arise to bravely stand alongside the people." The apparent call to mutiny could not be verified - but, if genuine, will deeply alarm Burma's ruling three-man military junta. <<

“For the time being, however, soldiers seemed to be obeying orders to put down the unrest. Truckloads of troops appeared to indicate military determination to prevent a 10th consecutive day of pro-democracy protests. Soldiers advanced up the streets with rifles at their sides, while police banged their rattan riot shields with batons. "It's a terrifying noise," one witness told Reuters. Barbed wire barricades were erected by the police, with fire trucks and water cannon strategically stationed across Rangoon. <<

“Burmese citizens gathered in front of lines of troops, sitting down in the streets, singing songs, chanting and taunting security forces. The standoff remained peaceful for some time before the soldiers opened fire. Leaflets urging people to support monks were furtively distributed around the city, but the monks were conspicuous in their absence during the latest demonstrations. <<

“The atmosphere in Rangoon was noticeably tense and quieter than usual as people waited to see whether the protesters would mount a concerted challenge to the authorities despite the brutal crackdown. An Asian diplomat told the Associated Press that the Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest at her Rangoon home. Earlier reports said she had been moved to the notorious Insein prison. <<

“Tight cordons of troops and barricades were thrown around the the City Hall and the Sule and Shwedagon pagodas - the main focal points of previous protests - to discourage the monks and their supporters gathering for another day. Prison vans were stationed around the city in a warning that diplomats said represented a considerable escalation of the security that had been seen on previous days. <<

"Clearly, the military had calculated that seven or eight days of protests needed to brought to a halt," Mark Canning, Britain's ambassador to Burma, said. "I would imagine that people [the military] have gone back to the drawing board and concluded that they needed to turn up the measures further. We deplore that and think that sort of violence is going to make matters worse." <<

Monasteries raided Violence During the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar

Myanmar troops also raided monasteries. The Guardian reported: “Security forces staged dawn raids on at least six monasteries in Rangoon, seizing more than 200 monks and arresting two political leaders from the National League for Democracy, Ms Suu Kyi's opposition party. Troops smashed doors and windows to break into the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery - a hotbed of the pro-democracy movement - as some young monks escaped through windows. Senior clergy at the monastery said some monks were beaten when they resisted. As many as 75 of the 150 monks at the monastery were taken away and a number of shots were fired. At Moe Guang, another monastery in Rangoon's northern suburbs, a number of monks were arrested and were being guarded by soldiers. [Source: Ian MacKinnon, Mark Tran, The Guardian and agencies, September 27, 2007]

Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “Overnight, troops surge into monasteries across the city, beating and arresting monks. At Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery, the floors are puddled with blood, the thin dormitory walls perforated with holes from rubber bullets. The raids enrage the people. The lives of Burmese Buddhists are intertwined with the lives of the monks. Monks preside over marriages, chant over the dead; they shelter orphans, care for HIV patients and help schoolchildren cram for their exams. A devout Buddhist will not even step on the shadow of a monk. With soldiers and police still inside Ngwe Kyar Yan, hundreds of local people surround it. "We had no weapons," a neighbor tells me. "Everyone just wanted to protect the monks." Eventually, with night approaching, the security forces fight their way out with live rounds, killing two people. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]

Associated Press reported: “Tensions mounted when truckloads of pro-junta thugs arrived at the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery about 8 kilometers north of downtown Yangon, the largest city in the isolated Southeast Asian nation. About 250 men carrying bamboo poles and truncheons surrounded the monastery compound. Riot police fired tear gas at a crowd of some 1 500 supporters of the monks. [Source: AP, September 27, 2007]

Raid on Ngwe Kya Yan Monastery

Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times, “To the handful of monks still remaining at Ngwe Kya Yan monastery - bruised, scared and in shock - it must have seemed that everything was over. The soldiers and police made their first swoop in the early hours, cracking skulls, firing rubber bullets and dragging away more than 70 monks to secret detention centers. The ones who escaped returned at daybreak to their smashed and looted monastery, the blood of their brothers still glistening on the stone of the courtyard. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, October 4, 2007 |||]

“By late afternoon, the soldiers and police returned to finish the job, but then something remarkable happened: thousands of men, women and children emerged from the surrounding houses of South Okkalopa township, converged on the narrow streets leading up to the monastery and trapped the soldiers and police inside. For more than six hours, the unarmed crowd prevented security forces from taking the monks away - until they were dispersed in a onesided street battle in which police reportedly shot dead at least two people. It was a scene repeated at monasteries and pagodas across Rangoon. At nearby Kyaik Ka San, Moe Kaung and Mahar Bawdi, local people defended the monks with their lives. In the end, their attempts appear to have been unsuccessful, but the remarkable risks they took demonstrate the depth of popular affection for the monks and the continuing loathing for the junta. "People knew that they had no weapons, no strength at all against the armed military," said a local. "But still they can raise their voices to demand the safety of the monks." |||

“The Times met two men, an engineer and a merchant seaman, both in their 40s, who witnessed the struggle at Ngwe Kya Yan. It took place at the height of the Government's crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations. After a week and a half of swelling protests, the junta finally made its move and removed the heart of the protests - the monks. |||

“Under cover of the recently announced curfew, security forces raided monasteries and pagodas across the city. At about 2am they descended on Ngwe Kya Yan, smashing windows, decapitating statues of Buddha, stealing gold jewellery and cash, and thrashing the monks with cudgels made from freshly cut bamboo. Early the next morning, the director-general of Burma's Religious Affairs Department visited the monastery to ask its abbot to leave for the Kaba Aya Pagoda in another part of the city. The engineer, who was there, said that the abbot told the official: "I will not abandon this place." He said: "The director-general told the monks to clean up all the blood, but they refused, because they wanted to show what had happened." At 11.30am, after the official delegation left, the soldiers and police returned, accompanied by members of an official militia called Masters of Force, which is frequently used by the Government to terrorise its political opponents. The engineer said: "From every side . . . people came out and surrounded the monastery. The soldiers and police inside began to panic because they cannot leave." |||

“Ngwe Kya Yan played a pivotal part in the last mass uprising against the junta, in 1988. The junta killed thousands of people in response while protesters lynched and beheaded several suspected government spies. The merchant seaman said: "The monks at this pagoda were very famous as negotiators between the people and the military in 1988. They saved the lives of some spies." He said that the locals had great affection and respect for their religious neighbours. "They give free lessons to the children before their exams, and they are very respected by the people." |||

“The stand-offs at Ngwe Kya Yan and nearby Kyaik Ka San took a turn for the worse after military reinforcements arrived. Soldiers surrounded the protesters and at 2pm began firing smoke grenades and rubber pellets at them. Burmese journalists claimed that they also fired live rounds at the crowds, killing two, including an 18-year-old schoolboy. The engineer said: "I didn't see it myself, but people who were in the crowd said that he was shot through the forehead. They kneeled down and took up shooting positions and aimed. They were deliberately targeting him." Security forces reportedly shot dead two people at Kyaik Ka San, and fatally wounded another when he accidentally leaned on his car horn after being ordered to turn around. It took the forces until 6pm to disperse the crowds and arrest the monks.” |||

Day After the September 27th Crackdown

Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “The New Light of Myanmar gives its version of yesterday's events: "Groups of demonstrators mobbed security forces, throwing stones and sticks at them, using catapults and swords," it reads. "The security forces had to fire warning shots as the protesters turned a blind [eye] to their repeated requests." The official death toll is 10, but everyone thinks it is actually much higher. A United Nations official tells me 40 were killed and 3,000 arrested, including 1,000 monks. Another diplomat hazards "hundreds" of deaths.[Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007 >>]

“The crackdown has worked. There are small, sporadic protests but no marches. The sacred rallying points, the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, are locked and guarded. Everywhere there are troops arresting and beating people. As I leave Rangoon for Bangkok, the 2007 democracy uprising feels over. Even the monsoon rains--such a feature of these once joyous protests, with the monks marching shin-deep through flooded streets--have petered out. The sun returns, and a cheerless rainbow arcs across the city. "Peace and stability restored, traveling and marketing back to normal in Yangon," trumpets The New Light of Myanmar. >>

“But I have a sense that the junta's victory may yet prove Pyrrhic. The brutal crackdown has shattered the relationship between the generals and the monks. The regime spent years building new pagodas and donating alms to cultivate its image as protector of the faith. It can hardly claim that role now. The assault on a revered institution may yet cause divisions in the army's ranks. "Soldiers are humans," says a Burmese analyst with close ties to the military. "They have families. They have monks among their relatives." Already stories are being told of monks damning to hell the soldiers who beat them--and the soldiers breaking down in tears, believing they have been condemned.” >>

Brutal Detainment of Monks, Protesters and Bystanders

Rosalind Russell wrote in The Independent: “Monks confined in a room with their own excrement for days, people beaten just for being bystanders at a demonstration, a young woman too traumatised to speak, and screams in the night as Rangoon's residents hear their neighbours being taken away. Harrowing accounts smuggled out of Burma reveal how a systematic campaign of physical punishment and psychological terror is being waged by the Burmese security forces as they take revenge on those suspected of involvement in last month's pro-democracy uprising. [Source: Rosalind Russell, The Independent UK, October 11, 2007 ==]

“The hidden crackdown is as methodical as it is brutal. First the monks were targeted, then the thousands of ordinary Burmese who joined the demonstrations, those who even applauded or watched, or those merely suspected of anti-government sympathies. "There were about 400 of us in one room. No toilets, no buckets, no water for washing. No beds, no blankets, no soap. Nothing," said a 24-year-old monk who was held for 10 days at the Government Technical Institute, a leafy college in northern Rangoon which is now a prison camp for suspected dissidents. The young man, too frightened to be named, was one of 185 monks taken in a raid on a monastery in the Yankin district of Rangoon on 28 September, two days after government soldiers began attacking street protesters. ==

"The room was too small for everyone to lie down at once. We took it in turns to sleep. Every night at 8 o'clock we were given a small bowl of rice and a cup of water. But after a few days many of us just couldn't eat. The smell was so bad. "Some of the novice monks were under 10 years old, the youngest was just seven. They were stripped of their robes and given prison sarongs. Some were beaten, leaving open, untreated wounds, but no doctors came." On his release, the monk spoke to a Western aid worker in Rangoon, who smuggled his testimony and those of other prisoners and witnesses out of Burma on a small memory stick. ==

“Most of the detained monks, the low-level clergy, were eventually freed without charge as were the children among them. But suspected ringleaders of the protests can expect much harsher treatment, secret trials and long prison sentences. One detained opposition leader has been tortured to death, activist groups said yesterday. Win Shwe, 42, a member of the National League for Democracy, the party of the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has died under interrogation, the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, adding that the information came from authorities in Kyaukpandawn township. "However, his body was not sent to his family and the interrogators indicated that they had cremated it instead." Win Shwe was arrested on the first day of the crackdown. ==

“A young woman, a domestic worker in Rangoon, described how one woman bystander who applauded the monks was rounded up. "My friend was taken away for clapping during the demonstrations. She had not marched. She came out of her house as the marchers went by and, for perhaps 30 seconds, smiled and clapped as the monks chanted. Her face was recorded on a military intelligence camera. She was taken and beaten. Now she is so scared she won't even leave her room to come and talk to me, to anyone." Another Rangoon resident told the aid worker: "We all hear screams at night as they [the police] arrive to drag off a neighbour. We are torn between going to help them and hiding behind our doors. We hide behind our doors. We are ashamed. We are frightened." ==

“Burmese intelligence agents are scrutinising photographs and video footage to identify demonstrators and bystanders. They have also arrested the owners of computers which they suspect were used to transmit images and testimonies out of the country. For each story smuggled out to The Independent, someone has risked arrest and imprisonment. Hein Zay Kyaw (not his real name) received a telephone call last week telling him to be at a government compound where the military were releasing 42 people, among them Mr Kyaw's friend, missing since he was plucked from the edge of a demonstration on 26 September. Mr Kyaw told the aid worker: "The prisoners were let out of the trucks. Even though now they were safe, they were still so scared. They walked with their hands shielding their faces as if they were expecting blows. They were lined up in rows and sat down against the wall, still cowering. Their clothes were dirty, some stained with blood. Our friend had a clean T-shirt on. We were relieved because we thought this meant that he had not been beaten. We were wrong. He had been beaten on the head and the blood had soaked his shirt which he carried in a plastic bag." ==

“In Rangoon, people say they are more frightened now than when soldiers were shooting on the streets. "When there were demonstrations and soldiers on the streets, the world was watching," said a professional woman who watched the marchers from her office. "But now the soldiers only come at night. They take anyone they can identify from their videos. People who clapped, who offered water to the monks, who knelt and prayed as they passed. People who happened to turn and watch as they passed by and their faces were caught on film. It is now we are most fearful. It is now we need the world to help us."

Japanese Photographer Shot and Killed During the September 2007 Protests in Yangon

During the violent clashes on September 27, Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai, 50, was shot and killed. He was covering the protests for APF. Reuters’ Bangkok senior photographer Adrees Latif won a Pulitzer Prize the breaking news photography category in 2008 for pictures taken in Myanmar during the protests in September that include the photo of Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai being shot. It was Reuters’ first pulitzer prize.

Describing his experiences during the protests, Adrees Latif wrote: “Tipped off by protests against soaring fuel prices, I landed in Yangon on 23 September, 2007, with some old clothes, a Canon 5D camera, two fixed lenses and a laptop. For the next four days, I went to Shwedagon Pagoda, two-three kilometers from the center of town and waited for the monks who had been gathering there daily at noon. Since I was at the same pagoda every day, dozens of people, including monks, asked me who I was and what I was doing. As the ruling military regime is notoriously secretive, my replies were guarded. Barefoot in maroon robes, and ringed by civilians, the monks chanted and prayed before starting their two-kilometre march to the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. Each day their numbers grew, from hundreds to thousands. [Source: Adrees Latif, Reuters, April 7, 2008]

By 27 September, the city had become packed with troops. Soldiers and government agents stood at street corners. Finding the Shwedagon Pagoda sealed off, I went to the middle of town to find groups of young people taunting soldiers at Sule. Within minutes, the crowd swelled from hundreds to a few thousand. The soldiers threw barbed wire coils across the roads. Knowing that hundreds of people were gunned down in similar circumstances in a 1988 uprising, I climbed an old crosswalk directly overhead, to get to one of the few spots offering a clear view. Below me, protesters were singing and waving flags; to the side, young men were thrusting their pelvises at the soldiers.

At about 1.30pm local time, two dark green, open-top army trucks approached, followed by dozens more packed with riot police. They were hit by a barrage of water bottles, fruit and abuse from the crowd. I had already locked on my 135mm lens and set my camera shutter speed to 1000, aperture to F/7.1 and ISO at 800. With the camera on manual, I wanted to stop any movement while offering as much depth-of-field as possible.

Two minutes later, the shooting started. My eye caught a person flying backwards through the air. Instinctively, I started photographing, capturing four frames of the man on his back. The entry point of the bullet is clear in the first frame, with a soldier in flip flops standing over the man and pointing a rifle. In the second frame, the man is reaching over to try and film. More shots rang out. I flinched before getting off two more frames – one of the man pointing the camera at the soldier, and one of his face contorted in pain.

Beyond him, the crowd scattered before the advancing soldier. The whole incident, which went on to reverberate around the world, was over in two seconds. I kept low on the bridge, capturing some more images from among a crowd taking cover. However, with soldiers firing shots and smoke grenades below, I had to get off the bridge. With adrenaline pumping through my body, I put my camera in my bag and followed the protests for another hour and a half. Feeling the demonstration had lost its strength, I made my way back to my hotel via backstreets and along a railway line.

My initial caption read: “An injured man tries to photograph after police and military officials fired upon and then charged a crowd of thousands protesting in Yangon’s city center September 27, 2007.” Initially, I thought he was merely trampled. I had no idea he was dead. Two of the frames showed the man’s face. A few hours later his colleagues in Japan had identified him as Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai. The images dominated front pages across the U.S. and the world. Mourners at Nagai’s funeral in Japan clutched the picture, which played a role in the public outrage that prompted Tokyo to scale back aid to the ruling military junta.”

Myanmar Government: Japanese Photographer “Accidently” Killed

A week after Nagai was shot and killed, Kyodo reported: “Top Myanmar officials have told Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka that the fatal shooting of journalist Kenji Nagai in Yangon was “accidental,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. In meetings with junta officials Yabunaka demanded an investigation into the shooting, allegedly perpetrated at point-blank range by a security officer. “The authorities did not shoot a Japanese person on purpose,” Myanmar Information Minister Kyaw Hsan was quoted as telling Yabunaka. “It was accidental in the midst of a series of actions to disperse the protest.” The senior officials were also quoted as asking Yabunaka to accept that the shooting took place in a chaotic situation in which some soldiers were also wounded. [Source: Kyodo, October 3, 2007]

Yabunaka protested to a senior Myanmar defense official that video footage of the shooting showed Nagai was shot point-blank from behind, counter to a local autopsy that claimed to find no evidence of him being hit at close range. The official responded that the footage was filmed from a long distance and that the angle from which it was taken should also be considered.

In December 2007, Kyodo reported: “Burma's police have told the Japanese government that it was a security police officer, not a soldier, who fatally shot Naga, Nagai's father said. Hideo Nagai, 83, said at a press conference that the Burmese police told the Japanese Embassy in the country that a police officer who was a little more than 10 meters away from the journalist fired the shot. Japanese police said last month after analyzing footage of the shooting that Kenji Nagai, 50, was shot within a 1-meter range by the nearest military personnel. Members of the Tokyo-based APF News Inc. said at the same news conference that the organization has gained witness accounts from Burmese locals that Nagai was shot while recording the shooting of a man and a woman who were shot near him. Nagai was on contract with APF News when he was fatally shot. An autopsy showed he died from loss of blood as a bullet passed through his body. [Source: Kyodo, December 15, 2007]

In November 2007, Kyodo reported: “Video journalist Kenji Nagai was under surveillance by a suspected junta agent before he was gunned down while covering the government crackdown on democracy advocates in Yangon, his Myanmar guide said. He also said Nagai met with two Japanese and asked them to bring his videotapes to Japan in the event that he was killed. The man said at the meeting that he was asked by Nagai to serve as his guide on Sept. 26, the day before the journalist was killed by a junta soldier. On that day, a man, apparently a junta agent, spoke to Nagai in Japanese, the guide said. Myanmar troops continued to keep watch on Nagai while he was covering demonstrators and security forces shortly before he was shot, he said. The guide said he warned Nagai of the danger but the journalist told him: “It’s OK. Keep distant from me.” Shortly later, gunshots were heard and the guide fled the scene. He said he did not directly see Nagai shot but is certain security forces killed him. He said Nagai, who owned two video cameras, used one made by Sony Corp. on that day — which is different from the one the junta gave to Japan. [Source: Kyodo News, November 10, 2007]

Media Coverage of Saffron Revolution Protests

Andrew Marshall wrote in Time, “When I recall reporting Burma's doomed pro-democracy uprising for TIME in September 2007, one image stands out. Amid cheering crowds, a monk holds aloft an upturned alms bowl to indicate his brethren's refusal to accept offerings from the military. It's a powerful gesture in a devout Buddhist country, but what strikes me is not the monk but the ordinary Burmese holding aloft cell phones and cameras to record his protest. Images like these were then transmitted out of Burma via the Internet, where they were picked up by major broadcasters and shown to the world. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, January 29, 2009]

“Burma VJ: Reporting from A Closed Country” (2008) is a documentary about the 2007 protests in Burma by thousands of monks made using smuggled footage. Directed by Danish director Anders Østergaard, this Oscar nominated documentary was made mainly using handicamns wielded by underground reporters who were at the protests. Burma VJ won the top award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in November and was screened at the Sundance Festival and the Human Rights Watch international film festival.

According to Østergaard; “The things we did with theses things could shake up the people of Burma, as well as the people around the world. The footage has been shown on news stations, but this is a collection of the footage showing a complete story. The reporters faced death or life imprisonment to get this footage. Once the military realized that the footage was being sent by the reporters, and not foreign journalists, they systematically hunted them down. Those who were not arrested, spread out through the country. It was a touching story of how the people stood up to oppression. They were not teabaggers, but people willing to die for freedom. [Source: IMDB]

See Film.

United Nations: Junta “Officially” Killed 31 People

In December 2007, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar’s military killed 31 people who can be identified by name during a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators more than double the amount acknowledged by authorities, a U.N. investigator who visited the country said. But Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N. human rights expert assigned to the country, said the death toll was probably much higher because there were reported cases of killings where victims’ names were not given. He gave authorities a list of 16 people killed in the military junta’s September crackdown, which are in addition to the 15 dead he said have been acknowledged by Myanmar’s authorities. The new list “contains only those incidents where the names of the people involved are cited,” Pinheiro said in a 31-page report released by the U.N. on Friday. “There are a number of incidents where no names were reported but where there were allegations of groups of people reportedly killed, which have also been shared.” [Source: AP, December 7, 2007 *]

“Pinheiro, who visited the country also known as Burma, from Nov. 11-15, said the report has a “list of names of 653 persons detained, 74 persons disappeared and 16 killed in addition to the list of 15 dead provided by the authorities.” His report includes details of a visit to the Htain Bin crematorium, where authorities said 14 corpses were transferred from the Yangon General Hospital. The bodies were registered and cremated, but three of the dead could not be identified. Eleven of those cremated died as a result of firearm wounds. *

“Pinheiro also said he received “credible reports” from a monk detained between Sept. 27 and Oct. 5 that at least 14 individuals died in custody. These included eight monks and one boy, who died on the first day, the monk told Pinheiro, adding that the deaths were due to poor detention conditions. Pinheiro said he heard that Win Shwe, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy movement, died during questioning in Plate Myot Police Center, near Mandalay, on Oct. 9. His body was not returned to his family, Pinheiro said. U Thilavantha, the deputy abbot of the Yuzana Kyaungthai monastery in Myitkyina, was allegedly beaten to death in detention on Sept. 26, Pinheiro said. *

“He added that “credible sources” reported a large number of bodies wrapped in plastic and rice bags that were burned in the early hours of the last days of September. The burning took place at the Ye Way crematorium in Yangon. Authorities blocked Pinheiro from visiting. “Sources indicate that it was not usual practice for the crematorium to operate during the hours in question, that normal employees were instructed to keep away, and that the facility was operated on those nights by state security personnel or state-supported groups,” Pinheiro said. At least one report indicated that some of those cremated had shaved heads, indicating they were monks, and some had signs of serious injuries. *

Human Rights Watch also said the military killed far more than it has acknowledged. The New York-based group said in a report that it had documented the deaths of 20 protesters, but believes that many more Buddhist monks, students and other civilians were killed. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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