Footage capturing the last, terrible seconds of Kenji Nagai’s life has been aired on Japanese television – horrifying a nation and raising official suspicion that the 50-year old photo-journalist was murdered by Burmese troops (writes Leo Lewis in Tokyo).
The shaky, indistinct moments of footage appear to show Nagai, who was on the edge of a crowd of panic-stricken demonstrators, shoved violently to the ground by a soldier and shot dead at point-blank range.
The crowd flees, leaving behind a visibly agonised figure believed to be Nagai – dressed casually in shorts and flip-flops – on his back in the street. In his right hand is a video camera, held above the ground to protect it from the fall.
A loud crack is audible as a soldier points his rifle at the prone figure before launching himself at the dispersing crowd of protesters.
A doctor at the Japanese embassy in Burma confirmed a bullet entered Nagai’s body from the lower right side of his chest, pierced his heart and exited from his back.
The footage, say Japanese experts, squarely contradicts the official Burmese explanation of Nagai’s death – that he was killed by a “stray bullet”.
(Internet types love to talk about YouTube’s influence on bla bla bla, but I wonder what they think of this sort of thing, this significant.)
In the few seconds before he was killed, Nagai appeared to being filming the Burmese military as it faced down the crowd. One of the soldiers seems to spot him doing so, and launches his deadly response.
Masahiko Komura, Japan’s Foreign Minister, said that the footage appeared to show that Nagai was slain deliberately by Burmese troops as they charged on a crowd of civilians. The government has dispatched the deputy foreign minister to Burma to establish the truth behind Nagai’s death.
Japanese media are hailing Nagai as a heroic crusader for the truth. His elderly mother, who made a brief, tearful statement this afternoon, said that she begged her son not to go to Burma, but Nagai had simply told her that it was his job to go to places nobody else wanted to. “I wept through the night as I thought about my son,” she said, “his job always made me prepared for the worst, but every time he went away my heart would beat fast.”
Nagai’s father said that if his son had indeed been shot dead at point blank range, it was the cruelest way to die.
Japanese television stations today showed a montage of Nagai’s work – mostly video taken during conflicts in the Middle East. His photo-journalism focused heavily on the victims of any conflict he covered.
He looks like he was such a nice guy.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he believes the loss of life in Burma has been “far greater” than that reported by the authorities.
He was speaking after holding talks with US President George W Bush and the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
The faces of the protesting monks are exactly like those who were killed in Mandalay during the 1988 uprising, in which I was one of the participants and a witness to the massacres.
Back then, truckloads of battle-hardened soldiers fighting on the front were shipped into the cities and told by their commanders that the monks and protesters were urban communists.
The soldiers gunned them down indiscriminately without a trace of guilt. But this time, most soldiers know that they are not shooting at a bunch of “communist” monks but the sons of Buddha with holy anger. They know that they are committing the most heinous crime.
Buddhist monks in London and elsewhere held vigils at their monasteries, praying for a peaceful end to the crisis and the safety of their brethren in Burma.
But their prayers went unanswered. The UN Security Council, the only organisation with the clout to affect the junta, decided not to intervene but merely to urge restraint. Violence has gone on unabated. …
“Ask the world how many Burmese people need to die before we can live like human beings,” he said, before adding: “They can’t kill all 50 million people, could they? I hope the world will stop giving us promises and do something before our country is destroyed utterly.”…
I heard a monk [in a monastary in N London] mutter to his acolytes: “If Burma is to be free only when the bones are piling up like the mountains, the bones of us monks will be at the bottom of the piles.” His voice was as authoritative as a monk’s should be, and he said it with a tone that exuded reassurance but little comfort.
In Parliament Square, many Burmese expatriates, including those who hold Burmese passports and had never joined in any political activities in London, turned up to show solidarity with the marchers and to denounce the junta.
The vigil highlights how urgently they feel for their beloved country, but their faces betray the fact that they still doubt whether the international community will take their concerns seriously.
I rang a friend living in a Thai-Burmese border town to ask about the mood in the refugee camps. The refugees are watching developments with excitement, I was told: they hope to go home as soon as the crisis ends with a solution.
But when I argued that things could only get worse, my friend replied that the refugees have nothing else to hope for but changes within the country in order to survive from day to day.
Another day to feel proud of being a member of the international community. Yay, the UN!