More than nine months have passed since the military coup in Myanmar, when journalist Heath Titt chose to leave the country.
In the weeks after the generals seized power, Keith Titus spent his time racing around Yangon, the country’s largest city, documenting the pro-democracy demonstrations that took place every day.
The authorities’ initial response to the protests was restrained, but within weeks security forces began beating and arresting peaceful protesters, firing live ammunition at crowds, deploying snipers and carrying out targeted executions.
A few weeks after the coup, Khit Thit, whose name was changed to protect her identity, covered a demonstration in Sanchaung, a narrow maze of streets just north of central Yangon, as she narrowly escaped from police custody asylum. at a nearby hotel. She reached the roof of a neighboring building, where she saw officers brutally beating a protester as he begged for mercy.
The nights were not much better, with soldiers patrolling neighborhoods after dark and forcibly entering homes to arrest suspects in the protests.
“It was a really scary time. “I couldn’t sleep at all and I was constantly worried that I would be arrested,” she said.
Heath Titus shared an apartment with several other journalists, but while some fled the border areas, joining one of the many People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) formed to launch armed resistance against the coup, Heath Titt remained. She hoped to continue reporting on events in Yangon, but as the situation in the former capital became increasingly precarious, she returned to her hometown in rural Myanmar.
There were risks there, too.
Khit Thit’s neighbors knew she was a journalist, and she was worried that some of them might find out about her.
She devised an escape plan with her mother, planning to escape through the back window and hide in a convent in case authorities called.
After several frustrating weeks, she decided to leave the country altogether, catching a flight to Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand.
“I was so worried that it wasn’t sustainable,” she said. “It was such a difficult decision. I didn’t want to go to another country or leave my family like that. I also felt guilty because my friends were in the jungle, fighting for their country, but I was looking only at myself.
“Even when the plane took off, although I was relieved, I also felt depressed because I didn’t know when I could return,” she said, adding that her guilt also prevented her from telling her friends in the jungle she had left. .
Maung Luin encountered a similar experience. After the coup, he remained for several months before fleeing to Thailand, worried that he might be arrested.
“I felt guilty because I felt selfish,” Maung Luin said. “It took me a long time to make that decision, and although I was able to leave safely, I was not relieved.
To live in fear
After the coup, the lives of many in Myanmar were completely changed. The economy is collapsing, largely due to the coup, with the World Bank forecasting growth of just one per cent in the year to September last week, falling 18 per cent in the previous 12 months.
Fear is also a constant.
In response to widespread opposition to the seizure of power, the military has shown “gross disregard for human life”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN chief for human rights, including torture of journalists, “cleansing operations” against villagers and indiscriminate attacks. “Through air strikes and the use of heavy weapons in populated areas.”
More than 1,500 people have been killed since the coup, not including those killed in countless armed conflicts across the country, while the UN estimates that more than 300,000 have been displaced in the past year.
An unknown number have fled across the border.
Some with resources to do so, such as Khit Thit and Maung Lwin, have flown to neighboring countries such as Thailand and India, while others have gone further, either out of fears for their safety or a lack of economic opportunities back home.
Among them is Nicki Diamond, a prominent pre-coup human rights activist. He left Yangon, then later Myanmar, when he was warned by contacts in the army that he was on their wanted list.
He now lives with his family in Germany, studying for his doctorate in a lake town in the south of the country, while continuing to work as an activist.
Diamond said he was also extremely saddened when he left Myanmar, admitting that he had bouts of “survivor guilt” because “we managed to leave the country, but other people have been abandoned.”
But as a man who has managed to leave, he also feels a responsibility to raise the issue of what is happening in his home country to friends and colleagues around the world.
“We have become something of an ambassador to educate people about the situation in Myanmar. In other countries, I meet people who don’t know what’s going on, so it’s my job to tell them, “he said, adding that the importance of that role is exacerbated by the fact that the Internet is increasingly being constrained by the Myanmar military government.
“Not everyone has become an armed activist. Many people continue in the city with nonviolent protests and sometimes need funding to relocate. So what my colleagues in my country need, I help with that, “he said.
In recent weeks, journalist Khit Thit has said her guilt over leaving the country has subsided and she has come to realize that her work as a journalist can help raise awareness of what is happening at home.
After a long search for the soul, she told her friends in the jungle she had left.
“They were happy to hear that I was safe. I didn’t expect that and it made me really happy, “she said.
Like Diamond, she now hopes to use her time abroad to continue telling the truth about what is happening in Myanmar.
“As a journalist, all I can do is show the real situation in my country to the people and the world of Myanmar. “Wherever I go, I will do my best for my country, and I hope that in this way I can help bring the military down,” she said.