A video camera that had been missing for more than 15 years after it was dropped by a Japanese journalist fatally shot during a protest in Myanmar was handed over to his sister at a ceremony in Bangkok.
Kenji Nagai was recording the demonstration on Sept. 27, 2007, in downtown Yangon — part of a peaceful anti-military uprising known as the Saffron Revolution — when soldiers arrived and dispersed the crowd with gunfire. The 50-year-old journalist, who worked for the Japanese APF News, a small video and photo agency, was hit and fatally injured. He was one of about 10 people killed that day.
Nagai’s sister Noriko Ogawa received the tiny Sony Handycam on Wednesday from Aye Chan Naing, head of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Myanmar media organization involved in its recovery.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “This is a great surprise and joy to me as I hadn’t even had any information about the camera until now.”
The camera transfer comes as Myanmar is gripped by unrest far worse than that of 2007. A widespread, determined armed resistance has emerged in response to the military’s overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021. According to the counts kept by journalists in Myanmar, three of their local colleagues have been killed and more than 150 imprisoned since the military takeover. A handful of foreign journalists were also arrested and later deported.
When the camera was found, the original tape was still in it. Its contents were screened at Wednesday’s event.
“I hope that this will turn people’s attention back to Myanmar and I hope that people around the world will feel that something needs to be done about the current situation,” Ogawa told media outlets in Bangkok.
She said the camera and footage would go back to Japan to be analyzed and support a thorough investigation into her late brother’s death, a case that had gone cold.
The footage showed protesters and monks on the street near Yangon’s ancient Sule Pagoda chanting and chanting as police blocked their way. Then trucks full of soldiers arrived, prompting Nagai to turn the camera on himself.
“The army has arrived. Over there, that’s the army,” he says. “I think it’s a heavily armed army. In front of the temple it is full of citizens. Citizens gather in front of the Buddha’s head. A heavily armed army truck has arrived.”
The images then appear to show people scattering. The video stopped before the fatal moment.
However, a video recorded by the Democratic Voice of Burma captured the moment of Nagai’s death, when he fell and was then apparently shot at close range by a soldier. A photo of the incident, taken by Adrees Latif of the Reuters news agency, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008.
Exact details about when and how Nagai’s camera was found and where it was kept in the intervening years remain vague. Aye Chan Naing only said it passed through a series of people before they left Myanmar.
“For obvious security reasons, we can’t go into more detail about how we get out. What I can tell you is we got it through a good citizen who knew what was right and what was wrong and that’s how we got it,” he said.
Nagai’s sister said she hoped an analysis of the tape would disprove the Myanmar government’s claim that he was not deliberately targeted.
“Incorrect site at inappropriate time”
An op-ed in Myanmar’s state-controlled press less than a month after the shooting said Nagai was responsible for his own death because he had put himself in danger.
“The Japanese correspondent caused his tragic end by mingling with the demonstrators,” the paper said. “Certainly, the Japanese correspondent was shot by accident, not on purpose. He met his tragic end by being in an inappropriate place with the demonstrators at an inappropriate time.”
The article also complained that Nagai entered the country on a tourist visa, not a journalist visa. Journalist visas were very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain during the protest period.
Shawn Crispin of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom group, said the danger to journalists in Myanmar continues.
“Today’s event is important and comes at the right time to remind that the Myanmar army continues to kill journalists with impunity,” said Crispin, who took part in the ceremony on Wednesday. “And the killings will not stop until Kenji’s murder is fully adjudicated, from the trigger man, from all the commanders that day who ordered shooting to kill, to the military leaders who orchestrated that day’s deadly repression.”