A group representing journalists in Myanmar issued a protest on Thursday over a ban on their entering parliament imposed last week by authorities after photos of lawmakers sleeping during a session were published online.
Pictures of lawmakers in military uniform sleeping or pushing a vote button for an absent colleague had angered and embarrassed the army representatives, who under law are allotted a quarter of the seats.
“They shut down media rooms because they don’t want people’s misunderstanding of military MPs after this kind of photo was published,” Soe Than Linn, a reporter from the online Mizzima News told RFA’s Myanmar service.
“Two military MPs hit two voting buttons at the same time for the absent military MPs and it is against the law,” the reporter added.
After the photos were published last week, reporters were banned from the press rooms of both houses of parliament and forced to watch debates and other proceedings by television.
Myint Kyaw, general secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN), said his group had sent a letter to parliament protesting the decision and urging authorities to reverse the decision.
The MJN also protested the brief detention of eight reporters working for international media that prevented coverage of the arrival of hundreds of boat people from Bangladesh and Myanmar, part of a major human trafficking crisis that has hit Myanmar and several Southeast Asian neighbors in recent months.
“These reporters had to promise not to go there to cover news about boat people. It is a restriction of free information flow,” the network said in a statement.
“Not allowing journalists to cover these boat people news is another restriction of media freedom,” Myint Kyaw told RFA.
The MJN will coordinate with Myanmar Press Council (MPC) and the Myanmar Journalists' Association (MJA) to press the parliament to lift the ban, he said.
The reporters have the support of some opposition lawmakers, who joined them in criticizing the ban.
“Media are the fourth estate in our country and have the right to cover news. If media can cover news freely in all of parliament, it is good for the people,” Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker from the National League for Democracy, told RFA.
The lockout of journalists from parliament makes it look like “press freedom is going backwards,” said Banyae Aung Moe of All Mon Regions Democracy Party.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei and Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Paul Eckert.