INTREPID CHRONICLER OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES

Slain journalist was conflict-area veteran

Kyodo News

Kenji Nagai, the video journalist who was killed in Myanmar, had operated in war zones like Iraq and was in the country to report on the mass prodemocracy demonstrations.

On Thursday, he was shot to death in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, by soldiers of the military junta while filming protests led by Buddhist monks and ordinary citizens, using a small video recorder.

Myanmar’s state-run TV reported Thursday that the crowd attacked the military first with arms, thus compelling police to quell the riot with deadly force.

At a news conference Thursday night in Tokyo, Toru Yamaji, president of Tokyo-based APF News Inc., explained that Nagai, 50, had been in Myanmar to “report on the developments in the nation’s democratization.” He said it was Nagai’s idea to go to Myanmar.

Nagai, who had a contract with APF, had been in Bangkok to report on a separate issue when he suggested to Yamaji that the events in Myanmar also be covered, the president said.

The video journalist arrived in Myanmar on Tuesday and was scheduled to stay for a week, Yamaji said. He also said one thing Nagai often told him was that “someone has to go and cover the areas where no one wants to go.

“Any backtracking on the Myanmar coverage as a result of his death is something that he would not have wanted,” he added.

On Friday, Yamaji visited Nagai’s family in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

Michiko Nagai, his 75-year-old mother, told reporters at her home that she was shocked. “Many thoughts came to my mind and I couldn’t sleep at all. I can’t cry anymore,” she said. “I was so shocked. He didn’t tell me he was going to Myanmar.”

According to his mother, Nagai went to the United States for one year to learn English after graduating from college. He then became a freelance writer and traveled to many war-torn countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

APF President Yamaji told reporters after meeting Nagai’s family that Kenji’s younger sister was crying, while his mother Michiko was repeatedly saying, “Why did this have to happen?”

Aika Kano, a freelance photographer who was in Iraq with Nagai, said Nagai cared about common people.

“He was a very gentle person with a strong sense of justice,” she said. “He was sensitive to human rights issues.”

Meanwhile, a 34-year-old man whose relative witnessed the incident told Kyodo News on Thursday that Nagai was covering a demonstration Thursday afternoon local time near the Sule Pagoda, standing in front of security forces with a small video camera pointed at them. One of the soldiers saw Nagai and fired at him, he said.

Both the man and his relative’s houses are near the pagoda. The man said residents were hiding in their houses to avoid stray bullets.

While Myanmar state television has said nine people, including Nagai, have died and 11 others were injured, the man’s relative told him that more people were lying on the streets and security forces were carrying their bodies away after suppressing the demonstrations.