A family is still searching for the truth 15 years after the murder of a Japanese journalist in Myanmar






A stone monument with a portrait of the late journalist Kenji Nagai and a drawing depicting his video camera is seen in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, on September 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Yasutoshi Tsurumi)

IMABARI, Ehime — September 27 marks the 15th anniversary of the day Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai was shot dead in Myanmar by military regime security forces while covering a protest.

The Myanmar military has still not issued an apology to the family of Nagai, who was 50 when he died in September 2007, and his video camera also remains confiscated. In Myanmar, the military seized power following a coup in 2021, derailing the country’s democratic transition. Meanwhile, the truth behind the fatal incident has yet to be uncovered.

In early September, Nagai’s younger sister, Noriko Ogawa, 62, quietly joined her hands in prayer at a cemetery in the western Japanese town of Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. “It’s become an age where a lot of young people don’t know you. As long as I live, I won’t give up getting to the bottom (of your death).”

Ogawa said that for the past 15 years, she “lived by repressing anger.” His mother Michiko Nagai, who died in 2013 at the age of 80, had demanded that the Myanmar government “immediately return the camera held by ‘Kenbo’ (nickname ‘Kenji’) until the end”.

Pro-democracy forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi formed a new government in 2016, and Ogawa hoped that would lead to progress in his brother’s case. She sent a letter through an acquaintance, but did not receive a clear response. The situation worsened after the February 2021 military coup. In July 2022, four pro-democracy activists convicted of political crimes were executed. Ogawa said with drooping shoulders, “My brother’s situation is quite hopeless now.” She expressed sympathy for documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota, who is still being held by Myanmar army security forces after covering an anti-army protest. Ogawa said, “I pray that he can return home safely.”

Meanwhile, Win Kyaw, 57, who escaped from Myanmar to Japan in 1989 and attended Nagai’s funeral in Tokyo in October 2007, hailed the late journalist’s efforts saying: “There are many of Burmese who still know Kenji Nagai today. the world’s attention on Burma. He continues to live in me like a hero.

Win Kyaw uses social media in his spare time to gather information about the Burma Army’s acts of oppression against the people following the 2021 coup. He sent videos and photos showing the acts violent and brutal from the army to the United Nations.

On September 27, the anniversary of Nagai’s death, the state funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was held. The Japanese Foreign Ministry invited delegates from Myanmar, a gesture effectively extended to the military alone, excluding the pro-democracy side. Win Kyaw criticized the Japanese government and commented: “Many Burmese citizens are fighting without yielding to the violence of the army in order to restore democracy. Inviting the army contradicts the principle of the state funeral of protecting democracy (claimed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida).”

According to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, 2,316 people have been killed and 12,464 people are still in detention as of September 23, 2022, as part of the military crackdown since the February 2021 coup.

According to the BBC and other sources, official guests from Myanmar were not invited to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on September 19.

(Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Matsuyama Office)

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