BANGKOK – In early April in a thicket of forest in eastern Myanmar, local news outlet journalist Vin eagerly waited for night to pass before slipping safely into a quiet part of the border and back to Thailand.
Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch say he is one of dozens of journalists who have fled Myanmar for Thailand since Myanmar’s military seized power on February 1 to avoid crackdown on the country’s free press. went.
Like Vin, many, if not most, crossed illegally. He fears arrest by the Thai authorities and what the people of Myanmar can do to him if he is caught and deported.
“They will torture [me] Certainly,” said Vin, whose news outlets have been blacklisted by the junta, his offices were raided by police and some of his journalists were arrested and prosecuted. He said his best was for their safety. Name should be hidden.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group tracking the junta’s actions, 98 journalists are among the thousands of people arrested by Myanmar’s security forces for protests and a stubborn civil disobedience movement since the coup. Under martial law in some parts of Myanmar, some are being prosecuted by opaque military courts. Journalists have also spoken of being beaten up in custody through lawyers and relatives or since their release.
Other dissidents arrested in recent months have died under suspicious circumstances. Relatives say authorities have blamed a heart attack in one case and an accidental fall in another.
Under military rule, “life is not guaranteed for any artist like me,” said Lagoon Ann. The political cartoonist went into hiding when a portrait of him teasing generals put him on the public’s wanted list. After carefully stealing his way from Yangon in central Myanmar to the border, he jumped over a fence in Thailand in mid-April.
Lagoon Ain said he was “like brothers” with two politically active poets who had been killed by the junta, and feared ending up like them if they were forced to return. News reports said Ke Za Win was shot by soldiers who opened fire on peaceful protests in March and that police arrested him at home a day after Khet Thi’s death, his body being his The wife was returned with the internal organs removed.
A spokesman for the military regime could not be reached for comment. The army had earlier said that it was using only proportionate force against threats to the state’s security.
Out of sight, out of mind
Sharing a long, porous border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, Thailand has offered safe harbor to many of those fleeing violence and persecution. Tens of thousands of people displaced by Myanmar’s long-running civil war between the military and ethnic-minority militias have been living in camps on the Thai side of the border for decades.
Still, journalists crossing the border since the coup have been keeping a low profile to reduce the chances of arrest.
“I’m very worried,” Vin said. “When I go out, I wear a hat, a mask and all these things so that no one can recognize [me]. I don’t go where Burmese people could come. I don’t expose myself to where I am. I don’t meet Burmese people. …neighbors, they don’t know I’m Burmese. i pretend myself to be thai or some ethnic [minority] Living in Thailand.”
He is suspected of being an informer in some communities of Myanmar citizens living and working in Thailand and said that even among his colleagues, only two or three know where he is.
In May, three journalists from Myanmar for another blacklisted news outlet, the Democratic Voice of Burma, and two activists who traveled with them were arrested in northern Thailand for illegally entering the country. At the time, local Thai officials told Reuters that the group would be deported. Thailand’s foreign ministry told reporters that the government would find a “humanitarian solution”. Rights groups urged the government not to send them back to Myanmar.
In a statement a month later, DVB said all five had been safely relocated to an undisclosed third country. But the news of his arrest and ordeal still shook Vin, who quickly changed safe houses and vowed to remain on the move.
Than Win Hatt, a senior DVB editor who crossed the border in April, said he did not remember the last time he left home since arriving in Thailand.
“We never open the window, we never go out. Some friends [are] helping us get food and some other things we need because we don’t want our neighbors [to] Watch strangers go in and out,” he said, speaking softly to prevent taking his voice too far.
shelter from the storm
Some of the new arrivals are already planning to move.
Lagoon Ann and two others, another political cartoonist and a freelance reporter who fled lawsuits and death threats stemming from their work, told VOA that they were in the process of settling elsewhere with the help of the United Nations International Organization for Migration. were in
The UN agency’s office in Thailand did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.
Vin and Thanh Win Hutt say they wish to remain in Thailand and continue to report on Myanmar until it is safe to return home to be in easy contact with sources and aides. Enough, but they hope – to escape the reach of the junta.
“I would like to request the Thai government to bravely stand up for humanity [cause] in their dealings with Burmese opposition groups or Burmese exiled journalists [taking] refuge on the Thai side, as they did in previous decades,” Than Vin Hut said.
The last time Myanmar’s military was in full control of the country, DVB and other news outlets based themselves in Thailand, but started going back around 2011, once the generals began a series of temporary democratic reforms. gave. All those reforms since the February coup have been removed, forcing much of Myanmar’s free press once again underground or out of the country.
“The Thais are good neighbors,” said Vin. “The only thing I want to ask them is to allow us [do] Journalistic work. We will respect Thai law and we will not interfere in Thai politics. What we are doing, we are only doing it for our country.”
Thailand’s Foreign Ministry declined the VOA’s request for an interview, citing the sensitivity of the issue.