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Selasa, 16 Februari 2021

Australian journalist in Myanmar fears he will be targeted in military crackdown - ABC News

Journalist Toe Zaw Latt, an Australian citizen, fears he will become a target as the Myanmar military escalates its crackdown on protests after seizing power in a coup this month.

Mr Zaw Latt, who works as operations director for non-profit independent media outlet Democratic Voice of Burma, said nightly raids have instilled a climate of fear in Myanmar's major cities.

"Everybody is under high threat, and of course, we are also on the target list," he told the ABC.

"Whenever [the] army came into power, the first thing they do is they will silence independent media — so there is only one version of truth, which is the army version of truth."

Nightly raids have seen some 400 people arrested as thousands take part in a civil disobedience movement across the country.

Protesters including doctors, civil servants, students and monks are demanding change after the army detained the country's democratically elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mandalay University graduates hold posters that say "Stop Arresting People illegally at midnight"
Mandalay University graduates protest against late night arrests.(AP)

"People are scared, but they are more scared to go back to military rule. That's why there is a lot of resistance — huge resistance — going on out there," he said.

"I think there will be a long fight from both sides, but at the same time we know how brutal military is.

Mr Zaw Latt said he was preparing for what he suspected was an imminent crackdown.

He is trying to circumvent internet blackouts, stay in safe houses by night, and has a bag packed with medication and necessities in case of arrest — all while trying to report the news to the people of Myanmar.

"Nobody is safe under military government, so that is why I also prepare for it," he said.

"We are still reporting what the army don't want people to see."

Mr Zaw Latt is no stranger to living under military rule — he fled the country at the age of 17 during the 1988 uprising and was eventually given political asylum in Australia, where he studied at Monash University.

He became a citizen 21 years ago when he married in Australia. He's no longer married, but has two children living in Melbourne.

Democratic Voice of Burma, whose journalists smuggled out footage during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, was also the subject of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Burma VJ.

Monks sit infront of riot police in Burma
Monks were at the forefront of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, which helped lead to democratic reforms in Myanmar.(Reuters)

Manny Maung, from Human Rights Watch, said the media had been a target in previous purges, and while journalists there often faced looming arrest, the events of the past fortnight meant "the danger and the risk to them is so much more imminent".

She said the arrest of everyone from doctors to social media influencers, as well as rolling internet outages, were targeted at anyone with the ability to organise and mobilise.

"But this time around, it's a little bit different. People are really angry. They didn't want this," she said.

Shots fired in Mandalay

A policeman aims a slingshot.
Security forces in Myanmar intensified their crackdown against anti-coup protesters in Mandalay.(AP)

Meanwhile in Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters on Monday night.

Soon after the incident, Tayzar San, a community organiser who began the first rallies in Mandalay, told the ABC the military was trying to "crush" demonstrations.

Tayzar San stands with a fist in the air on the back of a red truck and speaks into a megaphone
Community organiser Tayzar San says he is fighting for "genuine democracy".(Supplied)

He said people from every walk of life, from monks to civil servants, were joining the protests.

"We had a lot of hope for our future before this military coup, but this military coup destroyed all of our hope, all of our future," he said.

Minn Khant Kyaw Linn, a student organiser, said authorities in plain clothes had tried to detain him.

Both he and Mr San are staying in safehouses by night, as the military warns the public against harbouring political activists.

The military government was not able to be contacted.

Mr Kyaw Linn said frequent internet shutdowns are also a cause for anxiety.

"That's why people were afraid and people have very high concern about their safety, and also their family's safety. People did not sleep last night," he said.

"We have no weapons … but the soldiers do.

Student organiser Minn Khant Kyaw Linn speaking during a protest with a microphone surrounded by people in hard hats.
Student organiser Minn Khant Kyaw Linn is staying in safehouses to avoid arrest.(Supplied)

Mr San said apart from rubber bullets and water cannons, the military was adopting other tactics too, such as the widely condemned draft cyber security law.

Human Rights Watch describes it as "a draconian bill that would give it sweeping powers to access user data, block websites, order internet shutdowns, and imprison critics and officials at noncomplying companies".

Foreign chambers of commerce in Myanmar have also criticised the bill, although Australia's AustCham did not sign a joint statement.

The ABC has approached AustCham for comment.

Australian Sean Turnell still detained without charge

Professor Turnell appears with Aung San Suu Kyi
Friends of Professor Sean Turnell, an advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, are calling for his release.(LinkedIn)

Another Australian citizen, Sean Turnell, was detained on February 6. He is an economic advisor to Ms Suu Kyi, who has been charged for importing illegal walkie-talkies.

"Our ambassador in Yangon was able to speak with him via quite a lengthy Zoom call on the weekend," Foreign Minister Marise Payne told 2BG this week.

"He confirmed during that call that he is well but, of course, that cannot be an easy thing for him to say.

"This is a very difficult environment. He continues to be detained without charge."

She said she was "very, very concerned" about the events unfolding in Myanmar, stressed that Australia has called on the military to refrain from violence, and called for the immediate release of Professor Turnell and others who have been arbitrarily detained.

Last week Senator Payne said Australia's military cooperation with Myanmar's armed forces was "under review".

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Foreign Minister Marise Payne says Australia's embassy is providing support to Sean Turnell.

Ms Maung said the military had demonstrated they could detain a foreign national with impunity.

"It's pretty clear that the Myanmar military are completely derisive of the international community, they couldn't care less about these diplomatic ties," she said.

In an open letter, more than 300 academics at Australian universities called on Professor Turnell to be released "without delay".

"That Professor Turnell is an academic with a strong and genuine commitment to Myanmar there can be no doubt," the letter said.

"His credibility and ethics are exemplary. His detention is unjustified. We call for his immediate release, without charge."

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2021-02-16 18:43:00Z
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