Htet Htet Eaindra Aung was a news anchor at 7-Day TV in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon when the military junta ousted the democratically elected government and closed news organizations like hers. Now she is among a group of young journalists trying to help restore democracy by working externally, often on the run, for online businesses dedicated to challenging the regime’s propaganda.
An outspoken critic of the military, Htet Htet Eaindra Aung said she felt she had to flee Yangon after its repression by the media. She spoke to RFA’s Myanmar Service from the jungle of Kayah State along Myanmar’s border with Thailand, with only a backpack full of her personal belongings.
“I can not breathe here. It’s very cold, ”she said. “There are days when you wake up in the morning without having a good night’s sleep. Sometimes I spend the whole night in front of the fire and go to bed again in the afternoon. ”
Htet Htet Eaindra Aung spent several weeks on the run with refugees fleeing a military offensive in the Lay Kay Kaw region – an area in the adjacent Kayin state under the control of the armed wing of the ethnic Karen National Union. About 20,000 civilians are estimated to have fled the fighting in the area to makeshift camps along the banks of the Thaung Yin (Moei) River and into neighboring Thailand.
Every day, Htet Htet Eaindra Aung records a news segment in front of a green screen for the online news channels from PVTV and Delta News. At night she sleeps in a crowded tent in the jungle. She said she misses being able to work at her own pace and her previously carefree lifestyle when “there was nothing to worry about.”
“I worked quietly all day in an air-conditioned room. After work I wanted to go for a walk outside. It was my past life,” she said.
Htet Htet Eaindra Aung is one of many journalists who left the city for the jungle of Myanmar in the midst of the deteriorating security situation. Some have left the country to seek political refugee status. Several others have been detained while working in the country.
About 120 journalists have been detained since the coup, according to UN advertising from the RFA. While some have since been released, at least 53 others are still being held in various prisons. One photojournalist died while being questioned and another remained fatally shot in an artillery attack carried out by Myanmar’s armed forces while covering the situation of refugees in Kayin State.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report it released in December that Myanmar is second only to China as the world’s worst journalist prison.
After the coup, Htet Htet Eaindra Aung said she constantly felt anxious and insecure because she had spoken out against the military, making it impossible for her to work or even risk staying in her own home.
Eventually, she decided to leave Yangon to work as a correspondent in the jungle.
“I only have one brother and my father. They never stop me from doing what I want,” she said. “I told my father that I wanted to leave like this and that I might not be able to return home. He said it was fine and that I could decide for myself and not worry about him. “
Inadequacies and danger
Htet Htet Eaindra Aung, who has a passion for singing and strives to become an artist, said she was initially excited to experience life in the mountains and thought it would not be so difficult to work as a reporter in the country’s remote border regions. But she told the RFA that she misses the convenience of city life in Yangon.
“I try to be happy here, with nothing in mind. I do my work as needed. But in my subconscious mind, I miss Yangon,” she said.
“I often have dreams, and in them I would go alone in Yangon without anyone by my side. It must be a fun time where I walk around the city happy. But I often feel very bad when I wake up from such dream.”
Life in rural Myanmar is not only more difficult due to small inconveniences. As the fighting between the military and the KNU intensified in Lay Kay Kaw, Htet Htet Eaindra Aung fled the city along with its inhabitants, including infants and the elderly.
“I was very sad to see a newborn baby while I was on the run. The baby was only eight days old. Both the baby and the mother ran away from the fights,” she said. “I saw older people as old as my grandmother try to escape to safety. Even young people like me can not stand the cold weather here. How can these elderly people cope? ”
Htet Htet Eaindra Aung said she regularly asks for the release of the country’s detained journalists and the resumption of her career as a reporter following a termination of military rule. She also expressed her appreciation for her family, as she said “have full confidence in me.”
“I am so grateful to my father and brother, but I have never said it out loud. If I had a chance, I would like to thank them for this opportunity, ”she said.
Reported by Zin Mar Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.