MANDALAY – Four members of a controversial “crime reporters” group were arrested in Banmauk Township in Katha District of Sagaing Division on June 25 on suspicion of extorting money from villagers, the Ministry of Home Affairs said Tuesday.
Zaw Lin Tun, chairman of the Katha district sub-office of the Myanmar Crime Reporters Association in Banmauk, and three others were found to have extorted 500,000 kyats from four residents of Aung Thar Gone village, according to the ministry.
The officers who arrested the crime reporters told The Irrawaddy that villagers from Aung Thar Gone had purchased wood to make furniture for a village school. The reporters told the villagers that if they didn’t pay the reporters, they would take them to police and accuse them of possessing illegal logs.
“The locals just bought old pieces of wood for their village school. However, they paid the 500,000 kyats, as they felt threatened,” said the duty officer at Banmauk Police Station.
“It happened on June 22. Villager U Aung Tun reported the case and we arrested the reporters on June 25 and seized the money, the vehicles they used to follow the locals and their [Crime Reporters Association] uniforms,” the duty officer explained.
According to the police, the four members of the association illegally detained the locals at their office. The “reporters” are currently in custody and police plan to file lawsuits against them under the penal code for illegally detaining and threatening the locals.
The accused face one to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Most Myanmar Crime Reporters Association members work for journals specializing in crime-related news. The association was founded in 2016 and opened many branch offices across the country. Its members wear uniforms whose color and logos resemble those on police uniforms.
The association has attracted much criticism nationwide, especially from genuine news reporters, who fear their professional image could be damaged by the activities of some of the association members. In remote parts of the country, some of these “crime reporters” are notorious for extorting money from “sources” and for threatening locals with lawsuits. Such cases have been increasing lately.
The Ministry of Home Affairs issued a warning on June 16 that reporters, including those from the Myanmar Crime Reporters Association, must not wear uniforms that could be mistaken for those of police or other security forces, act as brokers at the courts, or extort others. It threatened to take legal action against anyone who did so.