Five and a half hours of driving on a rough dirt road through the thick jungle canopy had me feeling weary and disoriented. I was riding on a pile of duffel bags in the back of a Toyota truck using a backpacking hammock as protection from the thickening mist. The route reminded me of a logging road in the coastal range of Oregon, but instead of being a short distance from my home in Corvallis, I was 13,000 miles around the world winding through the mountains of Northwestern Thailand.
I was on this road for a purpose and a destination. The destination was the remote village of Mai Lota populated by members of the Karen tribe, originally refugees from Burma (Myanmar) a mere 70 miles away. The reason was to spend two and half weeks of working on a childrens home structure in the village and to document this experience through video and photos. That’s how the story begins…
I am home now currently about half way done posting the pictures of this trip onto my Flickr account. These pictures tell the story of the project, but also a little bit about who these members of the Karen tribe have become after they fled into Thailand to escape the oppressive Burmese government. This flight of Karen tribes people still continues.
This week, I noticed a story of a photographer named John Sanlin. Sanlin was recently arrested by the Thai government in the border town of Mae Sot after he returned into Thailand from Burma where he was covering the escalating conflict between the ethnic Karen tribe and the Burmese troops. The Thai government is planning to deport Sanlin back into Burma where he is a passport holder.
The article I came across says that Thailand has long been a safe haven for photographers and journalists to report on the atrocities in Burma, so The Committee to Protect Journalists from New York is trying to convince the Thai government to call off Sanlin’s deportation. Known journalists and photographers who are given into the hands of the Burmese government tend to serve terribly long prison sentences or worse.
Interestingly, this story popped up as I was posting the photos that I took of the Karen people in the mountains of Thailand. The village of Mai Lota has Karen roots that go back over 100 years. Just a few hours down the bumpy dirt roads from Mai Lota though lies the Burmese border. Just across, less fortunate members of the Karen tribe struggle for life every day as the Burmese government continues to commit acts of genocide against them.
Photographers like Sanlin are trying to tell the story in Burma, but if Thailand ceases to offer them a safe place of escape, the government in Burma will continue to hide its actions from the world. Hopefully the Committee to Protect Journalists is successful in their outcry to release Sanlin.