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Journalists Detained as Myanmar Military Intensifies Crackdown

FILE - Police arrest people as part of a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 27, 2021. Journalists are now being increasingly targeted for detentions.

Myanmar’s military is cracking down on dissent over the Feb. 1 coup there, arresting hundreds of protesters and journalists, including one from The Associated Press.

The AP’s Thein Zaw was detained alongside Ye Myo Khant, a photojournalist from the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, in the city of Yangon on Saturday. Both were covering a protest at Hledan Center intersection, which has become a focal point for the demonstrations.

AP Journalist Arrested in Myanmar
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The same day, Kay Zon Nway, of Myanmar Now, was detained in Myaynigone, in Sanchaung Township, when security dispersed protesters, according to Burma Associated Press.

On Monday, police in Myeik arrested Ko Kaung Myat Hlaing, a DVB reporter also known as Ko Aung Kyaw, at his home. Gunshots could be heard as police called on the journalist, who is also known as Ko Aung Kyaw, to come outside, DVB said in a statement.

Ko Aung Kyaw’s wife, Nay Chi, told VOA Burmese that police used force when they came to arrest the journalist and did not tell her the reason for his arrest for more than 24 hours.

“I have been to the police station and did not get any information,” Nay Chi said. “Because 24 hours had passed, I asked whether they had charges or if I could file a missing person report. Then police told me that two women Ko Aung Kyaw interviewed and Ko Aung Kyaw himself, were charged under section 505(a) of the penal code.”

Section 505(a) relates to statements or rumors likely to cause members of the military to mutiny or fail in their duty.

A court Tuesday also cited section 505 when it charged journalists Kay Zun Nway and Ye Min Khant. Both are detained in Yangon’s Insein prison.

Authorities used Myanmar's public order law Tuesday when it charged Thein Zaw, and five other journalists, a lawyer told the AP.

Crackdown on dissent

The arrests come amid an intensification of the crackdown since the military declared a state of emergency and detained key opposition figures including Aung San Suu Kyi last month. The takeover came amid months of tensions, after the military made allegations of election fraud over a November vote the National League for Democracy party won in a landslide victory.

Security forces on Sunday opened fire on protesters, with the U.N. human rights office saying it had “credible evidence” at least 18 people were killed, the AP reported.

As of Monday, 1,213 people have been arrested or charged in relation to the coup, according to the human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

At least 23 journalists are among those detained and 10 have been charged for public incitement, Myint Kyaw, a former member of the Myanmar Press Council, told VOA Burmese.

Myint Kyaw resigned from the independent media body last month along with several others, in response to an increase ins censorship and violence against the media.

Journalists have also been hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, and in some cases attacked.

Min Soe Lay, who works for the Monywa Gazette, told VOA’s Burmese Service that four police officers beat and detained him after he took photos of the protests from a hotel in Monywa, the capital of Sagaing region. When he told police he was a journalist, they beat him harder, he said.

“There is no assurance of safety for journalists in the country in this situation,” one Myanmar journalist, who was not named for security reasons, told VOA. “Arresting journalists for doing their job on the ground is unacceptable.”

At a news conference last month, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, the deputy information minister, denied the military was attempting to threaten or intimidate the media.

The spokesperson said he couldn’t guarantee that journalists would not be arrested but said the military would act according to the law.

Rights denied

The AP and media rights groups have condemned the arrest of Thein Zaw and other journalists, and called for the military to release them.

“Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution. AP decries in the strongest terms the arbitrary detention of Thein Zaw,” the news agency said in a statement.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar urged “all relevant authorities to ensure the safety and security of the journalists” covering the protests and coup. And the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for all those detained to be released.

“Journalists have a right to cover events of public importance in Myanmar and they should not face harassment or arrest for doing their jobs,” CPJ’s Asia program coordinator Steven Butler said in a statement.

The arrests exemplify the growing danger for media in Myanmar.
More than 20 experts at the United Nations, including the special rapporteurs on peaceful assembly, free expression, and members of working groups on arbitrary detention, issued a joint statement on Feb. 26 over the treatment of protesters and the press.

“Deliberate attacks on journalists and their arbitrary detention are serious violations of international human rights law and must immediately stop,” the statement said.

Online voices silenced

Access to the internet and information has also been curtailed, with internet service and access to social media platforms regularly blocked, according to digital rights group Access Now.

Residents have been using social media and other online platforms to livestream arrests and harassment by military, but intermittent shutdowns make it harder to share and access information.

The military said last month it was restricting access to the internet and social media to help retain “stability.”

Access to at least 30 Myanmar news outlets was blocked, as well as to a website dedicated to protecting human rights and an app that publishes information on the coronavirus pandemic, according to Access Now.

In their joint statement, the U.N. experts warned that regulating information online, “would give the military unfettered power to censor dissenting voices on social media, disrupt the internet at will and access user information with no restraint or regard for their right to privacy.”

Khin Soe Win of VOA’s Burmese Service contributed to this report.