BANGKOK—A Burmese reporter jailed for reporting on the plight of Cyclone Nargis victims has been honored in absentia with the first Kenji Nagai Award, named for the Japanese photojournalist killed in 2007 by Burmese security forces.
The award, co-sponsored by Nagai’s network APF and the six-year-old Burma Media Conference, was presented on Feb. 21 to Ecovision magazine reporter Eint Khaing Oo in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and accepted on her behalf by a friend and colleague, Suu Mon Aye.
“I feel very much honored to accept this award on behalf of Eint Khaing Oo,” Suu Mon Aye said, adding that “we cannot even say whether or not she is aware that she has been given this award.”
Eint Khaing Oo was arrested on June 10, 2008 and sentenced to two years in prison at hard labor for allegedly causing confusion by reporting or passing on rumors.
“When Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, the Dagon Myothit area where we lived was one of the worst affected regions. After the cyclone, she went about in Dagon Myothit as well as to other places … to help people, gather news, and ask about what had happened,” Suu Mon Aye, a stringer for RFA's Burmese service, said.
“Eventually she ended up in a camp where survivors of the cyclone were without water or shelter. She told her editor they should report the situation in the camp so that the government and the people would be made aware of what has been happening and could help.”
Eint Khaing Oo, then 23,“was arrested right in front of the staff of the United Nations office. She wasn’t even allowed to hire a defense lawyer. The authorities charged her and sentenced her to two years in prison,” Suu Mon Aye said.
“We have heard from her family that her spirit is strong [in prison],” she said.
The award is to be given annually to a Burmese journalist deemed to have exhibited courage in journalism. It conveys a prize of U.S. $1,000, which in this case will go to Eint Khaing Oo’s family.
According to official figures, Cyclone Nargis killed 84,537 people and left 53,836 missing and 19,359 injured.
Local people left homeless and without food or water in the wake of the storm complained that the government prevented aid from reaching those who needed it.
They also said officials hindered private attempts to plug the gap, and an unknown number of Burmese have been jailed for providing aid to cyclone victims.
Kenji Nagai was shot dead while recording video of Burma’s 2007 Saffron Revolution—a monk-led series of protests sparked by rising fuel prices, which ended in an armed crackdown in October 2007.
Original reporting by Thit Sin for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.