Myanmar: Photographer and activist dies in military custody

Photographer and activist Aye Kyaw, who was known for documenting anti-junta protests, has been reported dead in custody after his arrest on July 30. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemns the killing and urges Myanmar’s military junta to immediately investigate the incident and cease its persecution of journalists, media workers and activists.

Myanmar's military participate in a parade on March 27. Photographer and activist Aye Kyaw has died in military custody after his arrest on July 30. Credit: STR / AFP

Aye Kyaw, the owner of the Sagaing city Harman Photography studio and a member of the Upper Myanmar Photography Association, was arrested in the early morning of July 30.

Speaking with Radio Free Asia, Aye Kyaw’s relatives said members of the military arrived at his home in a convoy of six vehicles, under the premise that weapons were allegedly stored on the property. The photographer was detained despite no weapons being found.

Approximately ten hours later, the administrator of the Aung Chanthar ward contacted Aye Kyaw’s family to inform them that he had died, with his body being held in Sagaing City Hospital’s mortuary. According to reports, the body was left outside of the hospital to be collected by a local charity burial organisation, the Ohbo Health and Social Assistance Association.

The cause of Aye Kyaw’s death remains unclear and an official from the burial organisation said, “we didn't see any superficial wounds on the body but I noticed his chest was sewn up like a postmortem. I didn't see any injuries or leaking body fluids.”

One Sagaing resident close to the deceased reported deep bruising on the photographer’s body, while another resident said the lack of external injuries indicated Aye Kyaw had died due to extreme torture.

Aye Kyaw had been active in documenting protests and anti-junta activities in Myanmar, with his work often shared on social media by politicians and local media.

The photographer’s death in custody comes amid widespread repression of press freedom and dissent following Myanmar’s military coup in February 2021. In the past two weeks, the IFJ has documented an increasing crackdown, with four pro-democracy activists executed on July 24, to international condemnation.

On July 29, freelance journalist Maung Maung Myo was sentenced to six years in prison for possessing images and interviews of insurgent groups. The same day, Japanese video journalist Toru Kobuto was arrested during a protest in Yangon.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “The military junta’s continued assault on independent journalists and media workers has created a deeply hostile environment for the media in Myanmar. The arbitrary killing of a media worker in custody displays utter contempt for fundamental human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The IFJ strongly condemns the death of Aye Kyaw and calls on Myanmar’s authorities to immediately investigate the case so the perpetrators can be brought to justice.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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