Myanmar police on Thursday evening released the top editor of a Mandalay-based news agency arrested last month on terrorism-related charges for publishing an interview with the Arakan Army after the Rakhine rebel group was blacklisted by the government as an unlawful association and terrorist organization.
Police arrested Voice of Myanmar (VOM) editor-in-chief Nay Myo Lin at his home in Mandalay on March 31 for the earlier publication of reporter Khine Linn San’s interview with Khine Thukha, spokesman for the Arakan Army (AA), which is battling Myanmar soldiers for greater autonomy in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The government declared the AA an unlawful association and terrorist group on March 23, four days before the article was published. Nay Myo Lin faced up to life in prison had he been found guilty of charges filed by police under two sections of Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law.
His second hearing was held earlier on Thursday at Chanmyathazi Township Court.
Nay Myo Lin later said that police informed him that prosecutors could not proceed with the case against him, so they had to free him.
“The prosecutors for the case decided that I had not violated Sections 50(a) and 52(a) of the Counter-Terrorism Law this evening, and CID [Central Intelligent Department] officers immediately came to my cell to tell me about my rights and release me,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“But I had to sign a petition to obey any summons if there is any further investigation regarding the case,” he added.
The Counter-Terrorism Law prohibits organizations and individuals from associating with outlawed organizations. The two sections of the law Nay Myo Lin had been charged under carry jail terms of 10 years to life in prison and three to seven years in jail, respectively.
Nay Myo Tun maintained that journalists have the right to publish interviews with those deemed terrorists, and said in an earlier report following his arrest that VOM’s interview with the AA spokesman had been conducted according to established media practices and ethical principles.
“We have the right to interview, report, and publish as basic principles of free press and freedom of expression,” he said on Thursday. “These charges are not relevant to us.”
“[The] interview was done with the intention of how we could move on for peace in the country — not in support of a terrorist organization,” he added. “So I told them that I was not guilty of these charges.”
RFA was unable to reach Mandalay CID police for comment.
Nay Myo Lin said he had been held in a three-door prison cell reserved for death-row inmates.
“He was put in a death-row inmate cell for security reasons,” said Bo Kyi, cofounder of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a nonprofit human rights organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand, that advocates for the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
In the past, political prisoners were held in death-row inmate cells so they could not come into contact with other prisoners, he said.
“But he [Nay Myo Lin] shouldn’t be in a death-row inmate cell because he should have not been arrested,” Bo Kyi said.
Nay Myo Lin’s wife, Zarni Mann, a reporter for the online news journal The Irrawaddy, requested that her husband be moved out of solitary confinement so she could visit him more often.
“We can only see him once every 14 days with the reason being that is is a preventive measure against COVID-19,” she said earlier Thursday. ”He has been separated from others and can go out of the cell only to take a shower.”
Lee condemns arrests
Yanghee Lee, an independent human rights expert who monitors Myanmar for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the arrests of Nay Myo Lin and two other journalists apprehended and charged under the same law for interviewing the AA spokesman.
“I condemn the terrorism charges that have been laid against Khaing [Khine] Myat Kyaw, Thar Lun Zaung Het, and Nay Myo Lin for doing their job as journalists,” she said in a statement issued Thursday.
“These journalists were reporting on the escalating armed conflict in Rakhine state, where the government has imposed a mobile internet shutdown,” she said. “As such, their reporting was of the highest public interest value and should be protected.”
In 2019, the government ordered mobile internet services to be suspended in nine townships in northern Rakhine and neighboring Chin state where the AA and Myanmar forces were fighting.
On top of that, the government in late March ordered mobile network provides to block 221 websites, including news agencies based in ethnic minority states.
London-based Amnesty International on Wednesday issued an open letter to Myanmar President Win Myint to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, activists, and journalists imprisoned in the country for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
The group said that such politically motivated arrests and imprisonments are made possible by Myanmar’s legal framework that comprises laws that arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
“To end politically motivated arrests and imprisonment in the long term, Myanmar needs to repeal or amend repressive laws and bring those laws in line with international human rights standards,” said the letter signed by Julie Verhaar, Amnesty’s acting secretary general.
”In the interim, we urge the Myanmar authorities to stop using the laws to arrest, prosecute, or imprison anyone simply for exercising their human rights,” she wrote.
The letter did not mention Nay Myo Lin or any other arrested individuals by name.
Reported by Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.