“It became very risky for me to do the job.” — Radio Free Asia

Freelance Burma photojournalist Ta Mwe, a pseudonym he uses to protect his security, the pseudonym named for his security, has won awards for his news photos of the junta’s crackdown on anti-military protests following the coup of February 2021 which overthrew the country’s elected civilian government. To mark World Press Freedom Day, Ye Kaung Myint Maung from RFA’s Myanmar department spoke to Ta Mwe about his work on the conflict.

RFA: Can you tell me about the prize you won?

Ta Mwe: I won the jury prize for honorable mention in the Southeast Asia and Oceania category of the World Press Photo rewards. (I submitted) a series of 10 black and white photos about the Spring Revolution in Myanmar. My photo series covers scenes from the early days of the protests following the 2021 military coup. Applicants in this category must submit their top ten photos of their work that depict history. So I selected my ten best photos taken in four months, from February to May last year.

RFA: Can you tell me about your career as a photographer?

Ta Mwe: I started my career in photojournalism as a citizen journalist. Around 2007, I started taking photos with my phone and uploaded them anonymously to Burmese language blogs on Blogspot.com. Around 2011, I started working as a full-time photographer. I had worked as a full-time photojournalist for a local weekly, then became a freelance photographer.

RFA: What can you tell me about the press freedom situation in Myanmar at the moment?

Ta Mwe: The situation has become extremely difficult for journalists now. When we cover news activities in the field, we must first find a way to flee the scene and evade arrest, before we start doing anything, such as taking pictures or interviewing people. We have to figure out how to ensure our own safety before we hit the ground. As I covered the flash mob protests in Yangon, I carefully planned the streets to flee to as soon as I finished taking photos. It became very difficult. When I take a taxi coming back from the report, I don’t do it in the streets close to the scene. I walk a few blocks to hide the traces of my identity before taking a taxi. Before, there were several news media and several photographers working on the scene. They have now either been arrested or gone into hiding.

RFA: We have seen that informants from the military authorities are everywhere. What is the risk for journalists to do their job in these circumstances?

Ta Mwe: Like when I was covering the flash mob protest in Yangon, I have to be on the scene before the activities happen and check the surroundings if there are any plainclothes authorities near the scene. There could be informants on the scene. If I think it’s not safe to cover activities up close, I have to take photos from a distance. It became very unpredictable. I think the odds of spotting informants are 50/50. Sometimes I can easily distinguish informants from the crowd because of their appearance. But other times, I can’t tell them apart. I hear that sometimes they suddenly come out of a parked car to arrest people. It became very risky for me to do the job.

RFA: You are now in a safe place. What do you plan to do to continue your work?

Ta Mwe: I am now in a safe place. But I will continue to do the job of journalism by recording the events in Myanmar and broadcasting them to the world, because we are witnessing a historic turning point in Myanmar. For someone my age, it’s very important. I will continue to cover news happening in Myanmar from a distance. If it’s possible, I’ll cover him on the ground.

RFA: What kind of message do you want to convey to concerned leaders around the world, working to restore peace and democracy in Myanmar?

Ta Mwe: As a journalist, I risk my life to report news about Myanmar so that concerned leaders around the world can make the right decisions. It is their job to make an informed decision. I believe it is my duty to send the right information, regardless of the risks. I hope they will make the fair and unbiased decision based on the information received from us. I would also like to implore them to redouble their efforts to obtain the release of the journalists in detention. Without journalists working on the ground, the people of Myanmar will experience an information blackout, and concerned leaders around the world will have many blind spots in their decision-making and they will not make the best decision. I would like to call on them to do everything possible for the release of imprisoned journalists and to support those who are hiding or escaping arrest.

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