A total of 135 journalists have been arrested in Myanmar since the Feb. 1, 2021, military coup that overthrew civilian rule in that country, according to a local press freedoms group.
Among those arrested, 109 were men and 26 were women, while three other journalists were killed in the course of their work, said Han Zaw, a spokesman for Detained Journalists Information Myanmar, speaking to RFA.
“Right now, 55 journalists — 42 men and 13 women — are being held in detention, 22 of whom have now been convicted, and another six were given jail sentences in March,” Han Zaw said. The detentions and arrests of journalists in Myanmar are still ongoing, he added.
Jailed in March were Han Thar Nyein, managing editor of Kamaryut Media; Than Htkine Aung, editor of Mizzima News; Neyin Chan Wai, a correspondent for the Bago Weekly Journal; Aung Zaw Zaw, editor-in-chief of the Mandalay Free Press; Ye Yint Tun, a correspondent for the Myanmar Herald; and freelance journalist Naung Yoe.
All were charged with defamation and obstruction of the country’s military and were given sentences ranging from one-and-a-half years to 11 years in jail, with Han Thar Thein also charged with violations of Myanmar’s Electronic Communications Act.
Conditions in Myanmar are now unsafe for journalists working for independent media groups, said veteran reporter Myint Kyaw, speaking to RFA from Myanmar’s commercial center and former capital Yangon.
“There have been cases of torture,” Myint Kyaw said. “Not for everyone arrested, but there have been victims, and Myanmar has the second highest number of arrests after China, which means the second largest number of journalists arrested around the world,” he said.
“It’s dangerous now to work for independent media, and it’s dangerous to report on any of the incidents now happening in the ongoing conflict,” he said.
Veteran lawyer Khin Maung Myint told RFA that journalists arrested before June 2021 were charged only with defamation. But since June 30, charges under anti-terrorism and explosives statutes that allow for as long as 20 years have also been added, he said.
And though most of the journalists arrested were able to prove in court that they were simply carrying out their professional work when detained, none were released following their conviction at trial, he said.
‘Enemies of the country’
Speaking to RFA, junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said however that no journalists were arrested in Myanmar for doing their work but only for instigating violence.
“On Armed Forces Day [March 27], more than 40 local media outlets and 26 local reporters working for overseas media attended the event, and they were able to work and write freely. Even RFA has reporters in Myanmar,” Zaw Min Tun said.
“If a journalist is doing the work of a journalist, we have no reason to arrest him. But if a journalist commits crimes and incites others to violence, we will arrest him not as a journalist but as a supporter of terrorism and a source of false news,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, Aung Kyaw — a senior correspondent for the Democratic Voice of Burma who was arrested and released in March last year — said that Myanmar’s military members hate the journalists held in interrogation camps and treat them as enemies of the country.
“While I was being questioned, they would read news reports, and if they found something they didn’t like, they’d hit me and torture me, even though those reports were published by other media,” he said.
“I told them that we were not a foreign news agency, that our news agency was officially registered in Myanmar, that we paid taxes to the country, and that we were paid only in kyats, not in dollars. But they wouldn’t listen.”
Soe Ya, editor-in-chief of the Delta News Agency, said that journalists are now fleeing Myanmar due to junta suppression, causing a loss of human resources in the country’s media.
“Many journalists are leaving and moving to other countries to pursue their livelihood and because of the lack of security in Myanmar,” he said. “Our media world is now suffering a big loss because experienced people have to leave, as they cannot continue to survive in the present situation.”
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.