Bangkok, December 15, 2021 – Myanmar authorities must immediately disclose the status of freelance photographer Soe Naing amid reports he died in detention, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Soldiers took Soe Naing into custody on December 10 after he photographed a protest in Yangon against the country’s military junta government, according to reports by The Associated Press and the local independent outlet The Irrawaddy.
Citing anonymous friends, colleagues, and family members of the photographer, those reports stated that the military yesterday disclosed to his family that Soe Naing had died in custody. Neither report stated any suspected cause of death for the journalist, who was in his 30s.
“Myanmar authorities must immediately account for the whereabouts and status of photojournalist Soe Naing,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “If he died while in military detention, then those responsible must be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The AP report said that the journalist was sent to a military interrogation center in Yangon’s Eastern Botahtaung Township following his arrest, and that his family was informed yesterday morning that he died at the Yangon Defense Service General Hospital. He was cremated the same day, according to that report.
CPJ emailed Myanmar’s Ministry of Information for comment on the reports of Soe Naing’s death, but did not immediately receive any response. CPJ was not able to find contact information for the military interrogation center mentioned in the AP report.
Soe Naing and an unnamed colleague who was also arrested on December 10 had covered Myanmar’s post-coup crisis for months, and their work depicting protests and security forces’ crackdowns was sometimes published by foreign news agencies, according to The Associated Press and The Irrawaddy.
CPJ was unable to immediately identify that colleague or determine their current status.
Myanmar is the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists, with at least 26 members of the press held behind bars for their work, according to CPJ’s prison census, published earlier this month.
If Soe Naing’s death is confirmed, he would be the first journalist to die in detention since the military suspended democracy and took power in a February 1 coup, according to CPJ research.