HONG KONG: Reporter Mratt Kyaw Thu has won the 2017 Agence France-Presse Kate Webb prize for his compelling and rigorous coverage of ethnic strife in his native Myanmar, AFP announced on Tuesday.
The award recognises exceptional journalism in difficult or dangerous conditions, and is named after one of AFP’s finest correspondents who died in 2007 at the age of 64.
Mratt Kyaw Thu, 27, was recognised for a series of articles focused on ethnic and religious conflict in Myanmar’s Shan and Rakhine states in 2016 — the latter a precursor to the exodus of nearly 650,000Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine earlier this year.
The stories were published in the weekly English-language news magazine “Frontier”, which has established a reputation for independent reporting in a country where rights groups say media freedoms have worsened, despite the installation of a civilian-led government last year.
Two local Reuters journalists face up to 14 years in jail after they were detained under the Official Secrets Act last week.
“AFP is particularly pleased that a Myanmar journalist will receive the Kate Webb award for the first time since its inception in 2008,” said AFP’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Philippe Massonnet.
“Journalists work in a tough environment in Myanmar, where press freedom is a constant battle in which Mratt Kyaw Thu is one of the regular combatants,” Massonnet said.
The Kate Webb award carries a 3,000 euro ($3,500) prize and will be formally presented at a ceremony in Yangon in the New Year.
Kate Webb earned a reputation as a fearless reporter while covering wars and other historic events in Asia during a career spanning four decades.
To honour her passion for encouraging and supporting regional staff, the prize recognises journalists who are locally-hired in Asia.
“This award is recognition for me personally but also for the struggles of all Myanmar journalists, who are in a very difficult situation right now,” Mratt Kyaw Thu said, after learning he was the winner of the 2017 prize.
“Friends are being arrested for doing their job. Myanmar journalists are being watched closely by the military and government – it’s worse than before,” he said, adding that the prize would give him “strength and encouragement”.
The prize is administered by AFP and the Webb family.
The 2016 award went to the independent Afghan TV station Tolo. -AFP