Myanmar security forces have launched a full-scale attack on the country’s media, targeting journalists for arrest, raiding the offices of newspapers and online media, and banning five outspoken media outlets. At least 71 journalists, including a Japanese freelancer, have been arrested, of whom 48 remain in detention.
In the latest escalation, the junta is including journalists in the nightly broadcast of individuals “wanted” by the authorities. Every day brings new reports of additional journalists being detained.
The authorities have charged many of those detained with violating a new provision in the penal code, adopted by the junta after the February 1 coup, that makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” Those convicted face up to three years in prison.
It is clear that in today’s Myanmar, “false news” is any news the junta doesn’t want the public – or the world at large – to hear.
The crackdown on journalists is part of the junta’s larger effort to suppress coverage and deny the reality of serious rights abuses the military is committing across the country. Facing international outrage over the killing of more than 750 people by security forces, authorities have accused the media, which it says “does not want peace and stability in the country,” of “plotting to mislead the international community and the public.” The junta has also threatened “severe action” against a local group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, that has been tracking arrests and deaths, accusing the group of releasing “incorrect data” and harming “state stability.”
The authorities have imposed severe restrictions on the internet, making it very difficult for people to access or to share information. Mobile internet data and wireless broadband have been turned off for more than six weeks, and Facebook and other social media platforms popular in Myanmar have been blocked since the coup.
Despite the challenges and risks, Myanmar’s journalists and ordinary citizens continue to document atrocities and share information with the world. For daring to share what is happening in Myanmar, they are in the military’s crosshairs. They urgently need and deserve the international community’s attention and support.