Seven people, including three reporters, have been detained and charged by the military in Myanmar’s volatile northeastern Shan State for “having connections” to an ethnic armed group that has engaged in recent hostilities with the armed forces, the national army said on Monday.
Among the seven are reporters Aye Naing and Pyae Phone Naing from the online news service Democratic Voice of Burma, and reporter Thein Zaw from the online journal The Irrawaddy, according to an announcement issued by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief.
Both are independent media outlets that publish in Burmese and English.
The four other men, who were not identified, were also arrested for “connection[s] to the TNLA terrorist group” while returning from TNLA-controlled territory, it said.
The journalists were in two cars returning from an event organized by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, which is engaged in armed conflict with the national army in northern Shan state and has been deemed an “illegal organization,” it said.
They were detained while on the road near Phayagyi village between Namhsan and Lashio townships and were transferred to the police station in Lashio, the largest town in northern Shan state, for “further interrogation and to face legal actions," the announcement said without specifying which laws the seven had violated.
The arrested reporters attended a drug-burning event organized by the TNLA to mark the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Restrictions on free speech
The arrests come amid heightened concern about restrictions on free speech under the pro-democracy government of the ruling National League for Democracy government led by de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In early June, a group of journalists formed the Committee for the Protection of Journalists and began a white armband campaign called “Freedom of the Press” in Yangon during a court hearing for an editor and writer accused by the military of defamation under a controversial article of the Telecommunications Law.
The law’s Article 66(d) prohibits the use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those found guilty of violating it.
The committee is demanding that the government, parliament, and military abolish the law used to accuse reporters and editors of slander when they criticize government leaders, military officials, and high-ranking Buddhist monks.
Repression of the media was the order of the day under the former military juntas that ruled Myanmar for a half-century. That changed under the government of former President Thein Sein, who eased censorship controls on the media and allowed independent news outfits.
Though the current civilian NLD government, which has been in power since April 2016, lifted other censorship rules, the number of journalists arrested and tried on defamation cases under Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law has significantly increased.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.