Myanmar Forces Raid Media Outlets After Publication Ban as a Second NLD Figure Dies in Custody

2021-03-09
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Myanmar Forces Raid Media Outlets After Publication Ban as a Second NLD Figure Dies in Custody Myanmar anti-junta protesters display a sign addressed to the United Nations in Hlaing township, Yangon, March 9, 2021.
RFA

Myanmar security forces have raided the offices of three independent media outlets in the commercial city Yangon, arresting at least two editors, while a second official from the former ruling National League for Democracy has died in military custody, his wife said Tuesday.

Offices of three media outlets in Yangon were raided and at least two editors were arrested in a stepped-up crackdown on independent media following an announcement by the military government Monday banning five domestic outlets — Mizzima, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Myanmar Now, Khit Thit Media, and 7Day News— from publishing and broadcasting, and transmitting messages via social media.

The State Administrative Council, the official name of the military government, revoked the operating licenses of the outlets.

Security forces raided the offices of Kamayut Media Tuesday afternoon, arresting founders Nathan Maung and Han Thar during the search, though the junta had not officially banned the news outlet, said a relative of Nathan Maung.

Soldiers and police raided Mizzima’s office in Yangon region’s Thanlyin township Tuesday evening, even though the office had been closed since the Feb. 1 coup, an employee told RFA.

On Monday, police and soldiers broke into the office of Myanmar Now, known for its investigative reporting on corruption and rights abuses by Myanmar’s military elite, even though it had been closed since three days before the coup after running an article that a military takeover was about to occur. Authorities confiscated computers and office equipment.

Despite the ban, four of the news outlets pledged to continue to deliver reports online, while 7Day News, which runs a newspaper, web TV news, and social media pages, suspended its operations following the announcement and after receiving a threatening letter from the new junta-appointed Myanmar Press Council over its usage of the phrase “military coup.”

“This military council is not legitimate, so we don’t have to follow its orders,” said Thalun Zaung Htet, founder and publisher of Khit Thit Media. “However, we will not be able to continue our work like a real news operation with a real office and editorial staff.”

Most of Khit Thit Media’s staff had already quit, he said.

“Actually, I’m the only one left at Khit Thit, but I’m still trying to deliver the latest news to the public,” Thalun Zaung Htet said, adding that he now will publish reports on social media.

Mizzima TV and DVB TV have resorted to running stories on their online platforms.

In a statement on Tuesday, DVB condemned the junta’s actions and said that the ban on its operations is aimed at prohibiting both the public’s right to get information and freedom of expression. DVB also said it would continue operating as an independent news agency and fully support the Myanmar people’s fight for human rights and democracy.

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Myanmar anti-junta protesters display signs supporting the the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a national legislative body elected in the country's 2020 elections, during a sit-in Magway, capital of central Myanmar's Magway region, March 9, 2021. Credit: RFA

A shocking act of intimidation’

Former Myanmar Press Council members denounced the bans and raids on the media outlets, while rights groups condemned the military regime’s attack on press freedom.

Myint Kyaw, who recently resigned from the council when the military government seized power, said that the huge audience reach of DVB, Mizzima, 7Day News, and Myanmar posed a threat to the military regime.

“I think the military couldn’t stand the effect any longer,” he said. “Khit Thit, on the other hand, must have been seen as an outlet targeting the military rather than in terms of its public reach.”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the bans are part of a much larger assault on freedom of the press and the ability of journalists to do their jobs without harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

“It’s not surprising the military junta is trying to shut down these five outlets because they have been at the front line of providing extensive coverage of opposition to the coup and the abusive response of the security forces to ongoing peaceful protests,” he said in a statement.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned the shutdowns of the five media outlets that have been providing independent coverage of the protests since the coup began.

“We call on Myanmar’s military authorities to immediately restore the licenses of the five banned media outlets,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, in a statement. “The raid on Myanmar Now’s premises is a shocking act of intimidation and an intolerable violation of the confidentiality of sources.”

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A Myanmar pastor tries to stop security forces from advancing on anti-junta protesters in Loikaw, eastern Myanmar's Kayah state, March 9, 2021. Credit: RFA

Another NLD official dies

The intensified pressure on independent media came after days of raids on residences of politicians in Yangon, where police shot up and vandalized buildings and dragged away politicians.

Officers arrested Zaw Myat Lin, 46, head of the Suu Vocational Institute in Yangon’s Shwepyitha township, Monday night during a raid on the institute named after deposed country leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Township police informed his wife, Phyu Phyu Win, of the arrest on Tuesday when they asked her to identify his body at Mingaladon military hospital, she said.

Zaw Myat Lin had what appeared to be a bullet hole in his abdomen, though the military told Phyu Phyu Win that he had been injured while trying to escape arrest, she said, adding that authorities would not let her take the body.

The NLD figure was the second fatality in custody of a deposed ruling party official following the death of Khin Maung Latt, 58, who was arrested at home March 6 and died overnight in custody.

The next morning, his family recovered his body, which had severe wounds to the hands and back and was covered in a bloody shroud, from a hospital after notification by authorities, according to HRW.

“The Myanmar junta’s increasingly bloody crackdown needs to be met with a serious and united international response, including targeted sanctions against military leaders and their companies, to demonstrate global outrage for the killing of Khin Maung Latt and other atrocities,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Impunity for killings and disappearances needs to end once and for all,” he said

As of Tuesday, 58 protesters and others had been killed since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, and 35 journalists had been arrested, some of whom were still being held without charge, according to an RFA tally.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a watchdog group, said that as of Tuesday, 1,939 people had been arrested, charged, or sentenced in relation to the military coup, with 1,620 still being held.

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Myanmar security forces spray tear gas at anti-junta protesters in Loikaw, eastern Myanmar's Kayah state, March 9, 2021. Credit: RFA

Protests across Myanmar continue

Nationwide protests against the military regime continued in cities across the country on Tuesday, and many were met with violent crackdowns on demonstrators by security forces.

Only a few protesters were seen on the streets of Sanchaung township in Yangon region on Tuesday, a day after police and soldiers blocked the main roads, trapping people inside the area.

Most of the protesters trapped in by the blockade returned home this morning, though about 40 were arrested during the night, witnesses said. Despite a dusk-to dawn curfew, many people were out on the streets in several townships the previous night, demanding safe passage for the trapped protesters.

In Yangon’s Ahlone township, security forces broke up a protest column and searched for protesters supposedly hiding in alleyways, witnesses said. A a policeman was seen climbing over the wall of a local mosque to open the gate from the inside to let other policemen in, they said.

In Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay region, three people were injured and another three were arrested when soldiers dispersed protesters with gunfire, locals said.

“Three men got hit by police gunfire. There were rubber bullets as well as live ones. They fired randomly to disperse the crowds,” said a town resident who saw the shootings while he was shopping at a market.

“One of the wounded was hit near the groin, and he’s in a serious condition,” he said.

Police and soldiers occupied all the main roads and venues in Myanmar’s second-largest city to prevent the gathering of large numbers of protesters, though people managed to stage small demonstrations.

In Myeik, in the southern Tanintharyi region, security forces arrested about 50 protesters, including 20 young women and underage teens, following a violent crackdown in Kwet Thit ward, witnesses said.

One protester said that after “cat-and-mouse-style” maneuvers between protesters and police, authorities “blocked the area from both sides so people could not escape."

“Finally, about 50 people were arrested,” he said. “We heard they were taken to a nearby air force base camp.”

At the request of a university rector and parents, the young protesters were later released, demonstrators said.

Myeik police have been making arrests every day, and some student leaders have gone into hiding to avoid being picked up, they said.

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Young anti-junta protesters display a banner as they march down a street in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, March 9, 2021. Credit: RFA

Raids and smoke bombs

In Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, protesters in front of a state high school were wounded when police and soldiers fired rubber bullets and sprayed tear gas as demonstrators withdrew at the behest of a Catholic priest to avoid confrontation with security forces, witnesses said.

Protesters in Pathein, the largest city and capital of central Ayeyarwady region, staged demonstrations in two wards until police arrived at the scene. No arrests were made, protesters said.

Soldiers raided the Chin Center for Peace and Reconciliation in Hakha, western Myanmar’s Chin state, and arrested security guards on duty, residents said. Soldiers also raided the private Maykala Clinic and arrested a doctor who had been providing medical treatment to injured protesters, they said.

In Magway, capital of central Magway region, police and soldiers fired smoke bombs into alleyways in Thaingargiri ward and arrested four people who had asked them not to fire at random because the smoke was choking children, witnesses said.

Hundreds of people in Hpa-an and Kawkareik townships of Kayin state took their anti-junta protests to nearby villages after police and soldiers blocked all intersections and main roads in the towns.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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