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Independent media is under threat in Myanmar. At least 98 journalists have been arrested since the February 1, 2021 coup, while 46 remain in detention. The junta is including journalists in the nightly broadcast of individuals “wanted” by the authorities. Those wanted by the junta are announced on state media, meaning independent journalists are on the run. With credible journalists gone, all that’s left is government propaganda. 

Tin Tin Nyo Editor, Burma news International (BNI)
The majority of the people know that MRTV or Myawaddy TV channel is [a] kind of propaganda channel of the military regime so they don’t believe any news that is coming out from there.

Phil Robertson, HRW
The military wants to shut down any narratives it doesn’t directly control, because it doesn’t want the outside world to learn about the military’s daily atrocities against the Burmese people.That’s why Myanmar is rapidly becoming one of the most dangerous countries in the region for journalists to operate in.  

Few journalists are working openly, and many are reporting while in hiding attempting to dodge the security force dragnets looking for journalists. Nay Myo Lin is the editor-in-chief of Voice of Myanmar. Early this year he was detained for the second time.

Zarni Mann, Nay Myo Lin’s wife
I was shocked to hear when I heard my husband was detained. Since February 1, I feel like I am falling into a black hole and I have no hopes, no future. If the situation is getting worse and it's become not a very safe place for us, our only choice would be to leave the country.

Many journalists have fled to Myanmar’s border regions controlled by ethnic minority groups or to neighboring countries. They say remaining in cities is too risky.

Ye Wint Thu, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) journalist
If they to arrest someone and if they don't find that person, they arrest the family member. That is why those journalists and their families. That is why those journalists and their families are really [in danger] right now.

Numerous, credible sources report appalling conditions in Myanmar’s prisons and interrogation centers, where detainees are subjected to torture,  routine beatings and other ill-treatment. Authorities arrested journalists Han Thar Nyein and Nathan Maung in March, and tortured them for two weeks at a military interrogation center. Charges were dropped against Nathan Maung, but Han Thar Nyein remains in Insein prison and faces a possible 3 - year sentence. 

SuSu,Reporter Burma News Interna-tional (BNI) Myitkyina
The military, when they arrest  journalists, they beat them. Some of my colleagues stayed at home and the officers came to arrest them at night. No one knows where they were taken away, but they risk being tortured. They are taken to an interrogation room without charges.   Journalists are paying the price for reporting with their freedom. DVB’s Min Nyo was sentenced to  3 years under penal code article 505A for spreading “false” news. His colleague Aung Zaw, and Zaw Zaw of Mizzima News were both sentenced to 2 years under the same charge. 

Phil Robertson, HRW
The Myanmar military should immediately  revoke article 505A and other rights-abusing laws being used against Myanmar’s journalists. They should also immediately  and unconditionally release all journalists held in detention. Importantly, the Myanmar military should also reinstate the media licenses of banned  outlets and allow them to operate without interference. But despite the risks of arrest or worse, and the junta's crippling shutdown of the mobile internet and satellite services  Myanmar’s journalists continue to bravely document atrocities and share information with the world.

(Bangkok) – Myanmar’s military junta should stop prosecuting journalists and end its assault on independent media, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a video about the media crackdown.

Since the February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar’s junta has arrested 98 journalists, 46 of whom are currently in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). Six journalists have been convicted, including five for violating section 505A of the penal code, a new provision that makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” “Fake news” appears to be any news that the authorities do not want to reach the public.

The junta’s intensifying surveillance, harassment and detention of journalists is rapidly turning Myanmar into one of the region’s most dangerous places to be a journalist.
Phil Robertson

deputy Asia director

“Myanmar’s junta has made the mass arrest of journalists and control over the media a key component of its seizure of power from a democratically elected government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The junta’s intensifying surveillance, harassment and detention of journalists is rapidly turning Myanmar into one of the region’s most dangerous places to be a journalist.”

On June 30 the Ministry of Information issued a warning to journalists to stop describing the military-appointed State Administration Council as a “junta” or face prosecution. It also warned foreign news agencies to cease using the terms “military council” or “military junta,” and to stop “disseminating false news to global people.” The order threatened that “action will be taken against them under the existing laws if they apply wrong usages, quote and exaggerate fake news, and disseminate false information.”

Those sentenced under section 505A are:

  • Kaung Myat Hlaing, from Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), who was arrested at his home in Myeik, Tanintharyi Region, and sentenced to two years in prison.
  • Min Nyo, from DVB, who was arrested while reporting on a protest in Pyay Region, and sentenced to three years.
  • Thet Naing Win, from DVB, who was arrested in Bago Region and sentenced to three years.
  • Zaw Zaw, a freelance reporter who was arrested while covering demonstrations in Myeik, Tanintharyi Region and sentenced to two years.
  • Htoo San, a freelance photographer in Myeik, Tanintharyi Region, who was sentenced to three years.

Another DVB reporter, May Thwe Aung, was sentenced to one month in prison under penal code section 188 for disobeying a public servant. She had learned on March 16 that the authorities had arrested her husband, Min Min Aung, who is a reporter for The Voice Daily. When she arrived at the police station in Oakkan township in Yangon region to try to find him, the police detained her, ultimately leading to her being charged and prosecuted.

The crackdown on journalists is part of the junta’s larger effort to suppress independent media coverage of the situation in Myanmar, and to deny the serious rights violations the military is committing across the country, Human Rights Watch said. “If the situation becomes worse, then it becomes not a safe place for us and the only choice would be to leave the country,” one local reporter told Human Rights Watch. 

On May 4 the authorities arrested the US journalist Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, at the Yangon International Airport as he prepared to leave the country. On June 18 the authorities charged Fenster under penal code section 505A in a closed hearing inside Insein prison. The basis for the charge against him is not clear.

On March 9 the police arrested the Kamayut Media founders Nathan Maung and Han Thar Nyein at their office in Kamayut township in Yangon. Nathan Maung, who has since been released and left the country, said both endured days of torture including routine beatings and sleep deprivation. Han Thar Nyein remains in detention. “Although I am free, my aim now is to make sure Han Thar and the others are also released,” he said. “They are journalists, not criminals.”

The many arrests and prosecutions of journalists have had a severe chilling effect on independent journalism in Myanmar. On March 8 the junta stripped media licenses of five local outlets: DVB, Khit Thit Media, Mizzima, Myanmar Now, and 7Day. On May 4, the authorities banned 2 other outlets, the Kachin-based 74 Media and the Shan-based Tachilek News Agency. They also banned satellite television on May 4, extending strict censorship restrictions. Mobile internet restrictions imposed on March 15 remain in place.

International human rights law prohibits arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of speech and expression, including by detaining journalists and banning media outlets.

“The military’s sustained crackdown on independent media and the arrests of journalists, combined with tightening censorship, threatens to isolate Myanmar’s people with only junta propaganda,” Robertson said. “The junta should immediately and unconditionally drop all politically motivated charges against journalists, reinstate the licenses of banned media outlets, and revoke abusive laws used against members of the media.”


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