Hunted and hiding: journalists in post-coup Myanmar
Seng Mai Maran was the publisher and editor-in-chief of Myitkyina Journal, an independent media outlet in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State. She was also one of the few female editor-in-chiefs in Myanmar and built a large and vibrant newsroom covering difficult but critical issues, from conflict and corruption to drug use and human rights abuses. Such muckraking journalism is anathema to Myanmar’s military junta and Myitkyina Journal’s was stripped of its license in May 2021. Seng Mai spoke to us from hiding.
They are arresting journalists. If they don’t find our reporters, they arrest their parents or their children instead. That’s the kind of evil behaviour the military is engaged in. We stopped our journal because we could no longer face these threats. It is very inhumane. They aren’t just targeting our journalists, they are targeting our families and social circles.
The bigger the newsroom, the bigger the problem. Because if you have a big newsroom, you can’t keep everyone safe. That’s number one. Even if you can bring everyone to safety, you cannot bring all of their families. That’s the kind of loss we are facing.
We had a big team. There were about 30 of us, including the admin, marketing and accounting departments. If we continued publishing Myitkyina, they would all have been detained too and it is not an easy task to relocate every single one of them. So we had to give it up. It was heartbreaking.
We stopped the Myitkyina Journal at the beginning of May. Anyway, they have officially banned it, so we had to stop publishing.
The newsroom has become separated. We are all now scattered in different places.
Some colleagues are in hiding. Some are at the border, but others don’t want to go there, because in Myanmar these areas are conflict zones. They are not safe. We have to seek refuge in places where fighting could break out at any moment. Even if the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) have accepted us, their regions aren’t completely safe, even for them – the war planes can come any time.
Those in the border areas cannot use their Myanmar phone sim cards. Meanwhile, those who are hiding in Myanmar find it hard to access the internet through their mobile phones. So it is very hard to communicate with them.
I have a medical condition that makes it difficult to go to some places because there are no clinics or medicine for me. I am now in a liberated area.
We just can’t connect as a newsroom. That’s one of the biggest problems we are facing. I’m sure other newsrooms are facing the same challenges.
What we need at the moment – the whole country as well as the media – is money. We are experiencing a massive cash crunch. Even if you have money you can’t withdraw it from the banks because of restrictions saying you can only withdraw a certain amount of money every week. You have to queue from like two in the morning, just to get your hands on your own money.
If donors want to support us, money is the main thing. If you don’t have any money, you cannot flee, whether to the border areas or elsewhere. You cannot survive anywhere if you don’t have money. That’s what we need most.
Donor governments and organisations can’t help us with safety, because it all depends on whether you can run from the military. If you can’t, they’ll arrest you and send you to jail. It’s useless to demand that people be released. It’s useless to demand they don’t arrest people.
Nobody is interested in media safety training or any other kind of training because at the moment none of these have any practical use. No matter how much safety training you’ve received, the current situation is such that you cannot go to the frontline to gather news. They’ll just shoot you.
The only thing donors might be able to do is to give monetary support.
People know who the journalists from Myitkyina Journal are. The informants know who we are. The public knows who we are. Newsrooms have to rely on citizen journalists. But we haven’t been able to give them any money because we ourselves don’t have any cash. It is very upsetting that we haven’t been able to support them. I’d like the donors to know that.