BURMESE (Myanmar) police have arrested three senior journalists from the country’s largest private newspaper on Wednesday in another incident that has sparked outrage among rights activists critical of the government’s treatment of the media.
The three journalists were remanded in custody after handing in themselves to police over an article which criticised the financial management of Yangon’s government, which is which is overseen by a protege of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the AFP.
Rights groups criticized the detention of the three from Eleven Media, which comes as the latest in a long series of cases brought against the media under vague and outdated laws.
Executive editors Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win were hauled in before a Yangon court in handcuffs on Wednesday morning to hear the charges against them before being carted off to jail.
Defense lawyer Kyee Myint told AFP the case was filed over an article published Monday about the funding behind the city’s bus network, a scheme run by Yangon chief minister and Suu Kyi confidant Phyo Min Thein.
“All three of them were sent to Insein prison this morning after a case was filed against them under section 505(b),” defense lawyer Kyee Myint told AFP.
The trio could be fined and jailed for up to two years if a court rules that their story was published with intent to cause — or was likely to cause — “fear or alarm to the public.
Kyi Myint said the trio’s defence would be that the article was accurate, according to Reuters.
“I didn’t write anything wrong,” said Phyo Wai Win as he entered the police station. “I only wrote the truth.”
Responding to the arrest of journalists Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response, said:
“These arrests are yet another alarming assault on press freedom in Myanmar, and demonstrate that the authorities in the country are growing more thin-skinned by the day. They should be released immediately and without conditions.
“Journalists have a vital role to play in holding state officials to account and informing the public. These arrests, which came in response to an article criticising financial management by the Yangon Regional Government, send a worrying message to journalists and anyone who tries to question the government.
“Rather than detain journalists for doing their job peacefully, the authorities should repeal the oppressive laws being used to create a climate of fear and intimidation.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the “immediate” and “unconditional” release of three journalists.
Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said: “Imprisoning journalists in connection with their work is unacceptable in a country that claims to be transitioning to democracy. This kind of meddling takes Myanmar one step further away from the rule of law and respect for press freedom.”
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar said in a statement it was “deeply shocked and disturbed” by the arrest of the three journalists, while Amnesty International’s director of crisis response, Tirana Hassan, called for their immediate release.
A total of 38 journalists have faced charges under various laws during her administration, freedom of expression group Athan said last month.
Two Reuters reporters were convicted last month of breaching the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison, drawing global condemnation. Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were detained last December while investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims that took place during a military crackdown in western Rakhine state.
Last month, a former newspaper columnist who was harshly critical of Suu Kyi on Facebook was sentenced to seven years in prison for sedition.
In late 2016, the chief executive and another editor of Eleven Media were detained for nearly two months on charges relating to a complaint made by Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein over a Facebook post alleging corruption in his ties with local businessmen, according to Reuters.
Phyo Min Thein told a news conference at the time that the allegations were “intended to defame my personal dignity”. Eleven Media published an apology.