Title: Myanmar Military Cracks Down on Independent Media, Arrests Three Journalists
Author: Mong Palatino
Date: Mon, 03 Jul 2017 13:20:11 -0400
Podcast Download URL: https://globalvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/arrested-journalists-400x300.jpg
Myanmar protesters call for the release of journalists facing criminal charges
filed by the military. Photo courtesy The Irrawaddy's Facebook page.
Media groups and activists are calling for the immediate release of three
journalists who were arrested by the military in Myanmar's northern Shan State
on June 26, 2017.
The Irrawaddy and DVB are among the few independent media organizations
that reported on political issues when Myanmar was still under military rule.
The Irrawaddy is a content partner of Global Voices.
Lawi Weng from The Irrawaddy, and U Aye Nai and Ko Pyae Bone Naing from the
Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) have been charged under the Unlawful
Associations Act and could face up to three years in prison if convicted. A
colonial-era law that criminalizes membership in an “unlawful association”, the
Unlawful Associations Act punishes any person who “contributes or receives or
solicits any contribution for the purpose of any such association” with up to
three years in prison.
After Myanmar’s military-backed party lost power in the 2015 elections, the
former opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) took control of the
government, under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. This inspired
hope that media freedom would be protected by the new ruling party, which had
struggled for many years to restore civil liberties and democracy in Myanmar.
At the time of their arrest, the three reporters were in an area controlled by
the ethnic armed group Ta’ang National Liberation Army, gathering
information about drug operations in the state.
Tensions between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the federal
government have long run high and turned violent in late June. The TNLA which
is fighting for more autonomy for the Ta'ang ethnic group, has not signed the
government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement.
Myanmar has more than 100 ethnic groups, some of which are armed and actively
assert a right to self-determination. The armed conflict has lasted for several
decades, and intensified during the nearly five decades of military
dictatorship. The new government, which assumed power in 2016, has pursued a
national reconciliation and peace process, but has encountered difficulties in
many areas, including Shan state, where the TNLA is most prominent.
Despite losing power, the military continues to wield strong influence in the
bureaucracy and parliament through the constitution it drafted in 2008.
Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet, a member of the Committee for the Protection of
Journalists, a local group, insisted that the military committed a mistake
in arresting the journalists:
Press members must have the right to do their job anywhere. What is important
[for journalists] is to report fairly with no bias…It makes no sense to
arrest journalists for doing their job and gathering information.
An NLD official questioned the presence of the journalists in the conflict
area, arguing that ethnic armed groups should seek the permission of Myanmar's
Peace Commission before inviting journalists to cover their activities. The
charges that the journalists face are unrelated to such permissions.
Aung Zaw, the founding editor-in-chief of The Irrawaddy, asserted that it
is not illegal for journalists to visit a conflict zone:
It has been frustrating to witness authorities’ lack of communication or
assurance of the safety of our reporters, and it is absurd that security
forces are using outdated laws to silence and punish journalists who have
committed no crime.
This must be categorized as an unlawful arrest and detention; under media
laws in Myanmar, reporters are allowed to gather news in conflict zones.
Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, warned that
the arrest of the three journalists could have a chilling effect on society:
The arrest and charges demonstrate that either Myanmar’s military leaders
don’t understand the nature and purpose of the media, or that this was a
deliberate act intended to frighten journalists away from covering sensitive
issues that could lead to criticism of the armed forces.
If the military arrested Lawi Weng and two DVB reporters due to what they
describe as a connection to ethnic armed rebels, they would have to arrest
hundreds of journalists who work for independent media across the country.
I am sure that nearly all Myanmar journalists have made contact at least once
with members of “unlawful” ethnic armed groups, as all publications across
the country have covered the peace process—one of the most important issues
facing the nation.
Moe's column was accompanied by a cartoon, drawn by Kyaw Thuyein Lwin, that
depicts the military arresting the press, while former pro-democracy leaders
who are now part of the ruling party are doing nothing to stop the attacks:
Commentary: The military’s offensive against the media#Myanmar#Burma
— The Irrawaddy (Eng) (@IrrawaddyNews) July 1, 2017
Aside from the arrest of the three journalists, media groups and activists
bemoaned the rise of defamation cases filed by authorities against members
of the media. They launched a signature drive calling for the release of
the journalists and the repeal of Article 66(d) of
Myanmar's telecommunications law, which covers online defamation.
The hearing for the detained journalists is scheduled for July 11, 2017.
Written by Mong Palatino · comments (0) 
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