Conflicts & War

Fear, trauma: the cost of being a journalist under Myanmar’s military junta

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Jul 14 (EFE).- Faced with the constant danger of being detained or even tortured, Myanmar journalists live in a state of stress and trauma under the military junta that has governed since the Feb. 1 coup.

“I feel depressed, stressed and mentally exhausted after the violence and difficulties,” Kaung, a Myanmar photojournalist who has covered the anti-coup protests violently repressed by Myanmar forces, told EFE.

Through an application encrypted to avoid surveillance by the military, Kaung, who uses a pseudonym for security reasons, said they sometimes clandestinely take photos with their mobiles and avoid going out with their cameras for fear of being arrested.

“I do not feel safe,” said the reporter, who added that any journalist can be arrested at any time for the complaint of a pro-military follower or a photo, video or article that is not to the liking of the military junta.

He also said he feared being tortured during interrogations, after several detainees died in the custody of the military.

“I feel like I’ve lost my future. I don’t know what will happen later. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” said the veteran photographer, who added that he cannot even make bank transfers due to the collapse of the system after months of strikes.

At least 900 people, mostly protesters against the coup, have died due to violence by soldiers and police, while more than 6,000 people have been detained since the military coup, according to data from the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.

Among those detained are more than 80 journalists, of whom about half remain in prison, while the junta has withdrawn licenses from various media and applies strict censorship and growing surveillance of the internet.

Due to the repression, protests are now of the lightning type, dissolving quickly before soldiers and police arrive, who also face new civilian militias made up of opponents of the coup and various ethnic guerrillas.

Many journalists, as well as committed citizens, report underground, despite internet restrictions in the country, or in exile.

In this hostile environment, some informants experience anxiety, mental exhaustion, repressed anger, nightmares, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which occurs when someone has experienced extremely traumatic events.

“Even if you are exposed to certain explicit images because it’s part of your job, you can end up with PTSD,” said Cait McMahon, a psychologist and CEO of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

During a virtual conference organized Tuesday night by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, the psychologist said the directors and editors of the media must be aware of journalists’ mental risk, especially if they are collaborators, who often “get paid poorly or late.”

In addition to professional help, McMahon said there are practices that help overcome stress such as reducing exposure to social media, meditation, yoga and, above all, cultivating relationships with friends and family.

“What you really need is to find the support of the community (…) Even if you live in exile, far from your community, it is important to find ways to be in contact with those who love you, through social networks or phone calls” the psychologist added at the “Journalism and trauma in Myanmar after the coup” event,

In the same virtual event, Myanmar reporter Mratt Kyaw Thu, exiled in Spain after fleeing Myanmar, said the economic situation of many journalists in his country is desperate.

“A friend lost his job when he closed the place where he worked. He can’t even buy a packet of rice, he has a three-year-old son. He can’t buy rice for tomorrow,” he said.

Thura, a journalist who also prefers to use a pseudonym for security reasons, suffered an attack on his home in Yangon shortly after the coup, but still continued to report in the country until he decided to go into exile in April.

A former political prisoner under the previous military junta (1988-2011), Thura was not surprised by the violence the military junta used and now uses encrypted applications to continue reporting in exile, which he already had to experience years ago.

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