THE United Nations human rights office said military and government officials in Burma (Myanmar) have waged a “political campaign” against independent journalism through the arrests and prosecution of vague and overly broad laws.
The UN body released a report on Tuesday which examined five cases, including the high-profile incident involving Reuters Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Seo Oo, who were sentenced to seven years prison for violating a local law on state secrets during their probe into the massacre of 10 men from the Rohingya minority.
The report entitled “The Invisible Boundary – Criminal prosecutions of journalism in Myanmar”, which examined freedom of the press since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in 2015, said it had become “impossible for journalists do to their job without fear or favour”.
Both men were nabbed in December last year, later claiming trial to accusations of being in possession of secret documents belonging to the government. During trial, they told the court the papers were handed to them by two police officials at a restaurant in Yangon, moments before they were arrested.
Calling it a “particularly outrageous and high-profile example of judicial harassment against the media in Myanmar” the UN body said the sentencing was illustrative of how arrests and prosecutions are conducted “in violation of the right to freedom of expression”.
“The report refers to the ‘instrumentalisation of the law and of the courts by the Government and the military in what constitutes a political campaign against independent journalism’,” UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said during a briefing in Geneva briefing.
The group Reporters Without Borders estimates that around 20 journalists were prosecuted last year in Burma, Shamdasani said.
Despite the claim, the Burmese government has insisted that the jailing of the two journalists under the colonial-era Official Secrets Acts did not involve hidden hands and was done in accordance to due process.
According to Reuters, the Ministry of Information spokesman Myint Kyaw declined to comment on the report, but officials in Yangon have rejected claims that press freedom was on the decline under the government led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.