During his last weeks in Burma, he made a habit of changing his bed every night, dodging the military who had made him public enemy number one. Burmese journalist Mratt Kyaw Thu has just arrived in Spain after a heart attack, worthy of a Hollywood movie. “It was much worse than in ‘La Terminal’”, says Kyaw Thu, 30, in an interview with The Independent.
As in the film starring Tom Hanks, the young reporter escaped from a coup that he vehemently denounced, exposing the miseries of the generals who on February 1, on the eve of the constitution of the new Parliament, paraded the tanks through the capital and ordered the arrest of President Win Myint and the State Councilor, the Nobel Peace Prize Aung San Suu Kyi.
I have spent a month in a detention center in Frankfurt. It was like a prison
Mratt, who since last April has been dragging an arrest warrant issued by the military junta, managed to flee the country and obtain a Schengen visa at the Spanish embassy of a neighboring country. It was then that what should be the easiest part of the journey began. On the German scale, however, the course was twisted and for the next four weeks he was trapped at Frankfurt International Airport. The German authorities denied his asylum application, on the grounds that, by virtue of the Dublin Treaty, the country of destination, Spain, should be in charge of processing it.
“I have spent a month in a detention center in Frankfurt. It was like a prison, ”says the journalist, a true reference in his country with more than 260,000 followers on Twitter and a courageous work that has exposed the lies of the military council chaired by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing. “At least in the movie ‘La Terminal’, the protagonist could go shopping and buy things, have a coffee and have a date with a girl,” jokes Mratt, a collaborator of -among other means- the Efe agency. “I, on the other hand, had to stay in my room and could not walk more than a hundred meters. All I could do was buy a Coke from a vending machine, ”he details.
The protocol designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 further complicated things, keeping him incommunicado for ten days. “In ten days I couldn’t borrow a book, use my mobile phone or the internet. I couldn’t even communicate with people because they didn’t speak English. Most of the time I spent waiting for someone to call me on the phone ”, he recalls having just landed in Madrid.
A novel escape
“I’m happy. I feel free because from here I can write about whatever I want and even walk and introduce myself as a journalist to all the people I meet, “the reporter replies as he walks, carefree, through the streets of the capital. Before putting land in between with Burma, Mratt had to undertake a fictional escape. “On March 11, the 77th Light Infantry Division, notorious for killing Rohingya in Rakhine state, appeared on my street. I don’t know if they were coming for me but, fortunately, I wasn’t there to check it out, ”says the journalist.
“A neighbor photographed the soldiers and sent me the images. He asked me not to come back and to leave. At the end of March I left Rangoon, ”he recalls. During the previous weeks, he chose to spend the night in always different locations. “I had done an interview with a deserter general who had been the first to join the civil disobedience movements and from state television, controlled by the military, they accused me of spreading false news and even spread my name publicly. I decided to sleep at friends’ houses. If they caught me, I knew they would torture me or even worse: they would make me disappear, as they had already done with members of the National League for Democracy ”.
If they caught me, I knew they would torture me or even worse: they would make me disappear
Burma is ranked 140 out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ latest annual ranking. Since the riot, journalists have been attacked with ammunition, newsrooms have been raided and the telephone network has repeatedly turned black in order to drown out any attempt to shed light. Since February, the crackdown has left more than 700 civilians dead, including children, and more than 3,000 detained. Up to three prominent opponents have died in custody.
In his fright, Mratt spent weeks in remote and hard-to-reach areas of Burma. “There were times when I couldn’t get access to the internet for five days,” says Mratt. His work, however, had been on the radar of the military establishment for more than five years. “To be precise, since 2016. I think I was the only journalist who witnessed the military escalation against the Rohingya. The local and international media used my information as a source in front of the state news agency. That was how both the ruling party and the military noticed me ”.
His determination to act on the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority that inhabits the west of the country – a Buddhist majority – won the Kate Webb award from the France Presse news agency in 2017. According to the UN, systematic genocide at the hands of the Burmese army and police it has claimed more than 25,000 lives and has forced more than 725,000 people from their homes.
Now included in the list of fugitives from Burma, Mratt hopes to soon begin the hazardous asylum procedures that Spain grants with a dropper. According to last year’s report from the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid, our country only offered international protection to 5.2 percent of applicants, far from the average 31 percent of European Union countries. “At some point I became afraid of being deported to a third country and I lived under a lot of anxiety but now I just want to continue with my work. It’s my passion and it’s all I want”, He concludes.