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Weekly reads from CJR for February 25, 2021

E. Tammy Kim and Swe Win on covering the coup in Myanmar

Early in the morning on February 1, hours before Myanmar’s parliament was to certify the results of the latest election, the military staged a coup. For a decade, Myanmar had maintained a precarious power-sharing agreement between the military and the civilian government, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. Now Suu Kyi was being detained, along with other democratic leaders. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief, declared a state of emergency, then shut off the internet and blocked phone lines. “We have developed so much anger and animosity toward the military,” Swe Win, the editor of Myanmar Now, a bilingual news outlet in Yangon, recently told E. Tammy Kim. “But the level of anger, the nature of the anger this time around is different because people have tasted democracy and liberty.”

Kim first wrote about Swe Win a few years ago, when he was the subject of a defamation case, shuttling back and forth from court hearings. At the time, Myanmar was making international news for having set free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters reporters who’d been sent to prison after exposing that military units were systematically killing Rohingya Muslims. But their release came with chilling unknowns. “It wasn’t clear whether the military or Suu Kyi had driven the prosecution of the journalists—or, for that matter, the routing of more than 730,000 Rohingya, one of the largest stateless groups in the world,” Kim wrote. To Myanmar’s press, “One highly visible victory may have served to mask dozens of defeats.”

Swe Win’s case was ultimately dismissed. But a few months later, while on vacation with his wife and daughter, he was shot in the leg. A source told him that a military official had personally directed the hit. Swe Win and his family fled the country, with plans to return around the election. They never made it back. But the staff of Myanmar Now remained. When Min Aung Hlaing seized power, some fled Yangon; others lay low. Then the country took to the streets, to demonstrate against the junta. “They are going out from their hideouts to cover the protests,” Swe Win said, of his reporters. “But still, we’re in disarray. They’re still grappling with the trauma of the coup.” The military has responded with violence, killing protesters and warning citizens that they will continue to “suffer loss of life.” Myanmar Now is covering the story, with Swe Win running the newsroom in exile, which he discussed on CJR’s podcast, The Kicker.
––Betsy Morais, managing editor


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