Kenji Nagai: Japanese Journalist Killed in Myanmar

Kenji Nagai shooting photo
Sento/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

As the image of the Tank Man will forever define the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the video and still footage of APF photographer Kenji Nagai being slain will likely be the most lasting image of the September 2007 military crackdowns in Myanmar.

Kenji Nagai: Going Where No One Else Would

"These are places no one wants to go to, but someone has to go," Nagai's colleagues and family remember the journalist saying of his coverage in far-flung, often dangerous places, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nagai's Coverage of Protesters in Myanmar

On Sept. 27, 2007, 50-year-old Nagai, who had arrived in Myanmar just two days beforehand, was covering soldiers violently cracking down on protesters near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The Myanmar government had been closing private newspapers that were not complying with military rules and printing government propaganda, and had been sweeping hotels to root out and hassle foreign journalists. As the government was taking such pains to keep news of the crackdowns from reaching the outside world, Nagai would have been a target simply for the fact that he was taking pictures of soldiers descending upon civilians.

Kenji Nagai's Death

Contrary to government claims that Nagai was probably hit by a stray bullet, the chilling video shows what appears to be a soldier pushing down and shooting Nagai at point-blank range. Blood can then be seen from a single bullet wound in the lower right part of Nagai's chest. An autopsy showed that the bullet then pierced the journalist's heart and exited through his back. Witnesses who live near the scene also confirmed that Nagai was shot intentionally for filming the protest.

Response to Nagai's Killing

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association responded angrily to the killing. "There is an urgent need to help Burmese and foreign journalists to continue to do their job of reporting the news. This is a criminal regime, as the Japanese photographer’s murder has shown, and it is trying by all possible means to create a situation of complete isolation."

Toru Yamaji, president of Tokyo-based APF News Inc., said Nagai had been covering a story in Bangkok when the situation in Myanmar escalated. Nagai then asked his boss if he could go there and cover the story. "Any backtracking on the Myanmar coverage as a result of his death is something that he would not have wanted," he said.

"I wept through the night as I thought about my son," said Nagai's mother. "His job always made me prepared for the worst, but every time he went away my heart would beat fast."