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Family still seeking truth 15 years after killing of Japanese journalist in Myanmar

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

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

    The Myanmar military has still not offered an apology to the family of Nagai, who was aged 50 at the time of his death 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 is yet to be uncovered.

    In early September, Nagai's younger sister Noriko Ogawa, 62, quietly put her hands together in prayer at a cemetery in the west Japan city of Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. "It has become an age where many young people do not know you. As long as I'm alive, I will not give up getting to the bottom (of your death)."

    Ogawa said that for the past 15 years, she "lived while suppressing anger." Her mother Michiko Nagai, who passed away in 2013 at age 80, had demanded that the Myanmar government "immediately return the camera gripped by 'Kenbo' (nickname for 'Kenji') until the end."

    Pro-democracy forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi formed a new government in 2016, and Ogawa hoped this would lead to progress on her brother's case. She sent a letter via an acquaintance, but did not receive a clear answer. The situation took a turn for the worse following the military coup in February 2021. In July 2022, four pro-democracy activists convicted of political crimes were executed. Ogawa said, shoulders drooping, "My brother's situation is utterly hopeless now." She showed sympathy toward documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota, who remains detained by the Myanmar military's security forces after covering a demonstration against the military. Ogawa said, "I pray that he can come home safely."

    Meanwhile, Win Kyaw, 57, who escaped from Myanmar to Japan in 1989 and attended Nagai's funeral in Tokyo in October 2007, praised the late journalist's efforts, saying, "There are many Burmese people who know Kenji Nagai even today. His death directed the world's attention to Burma. He continues to live within me as a hero."

    Win Kyaw uses social media during his free time to collect information on the Myanmar military's acts of oppression against the people following the 2021 coup. He has been sending videos and photos showing the military's violent and brutal acts to the United Nations.

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

    According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, 2,316 people have been killed and 12,464 people remained in detention by Sept. 23, 2022, amid military crackdowns since the coup in February 2021.

    According to the BBC and other sources, state guests from Myanmar were not invited to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 19.

    (Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Matsuyama Bureau)

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