RANGOON — The Burmese military has threatened media outlets with legal action if they report statements from a Kokang ethnic rebel group that has been blacklisted by the government.
An announcement by the “Tatmadaw [Burma Army] Accurate Information Team,” made available to journalists via the Myanmar Press Council on Sunday, imposes a “total ban” on publishing or broadcastings statements made by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) at a summit its representatives are currently attending along with 11 other ethnic armed groups in Panghsan, eastern Shan State.
“We are letting you know that we will prosecute under existing law for either publishing or airing MNDAA statements from the summit, because the MNDAA has been outlawed by the government,” reads the statement.
It was not clear if the ban would apply beyond the Panghsang meeting’s conclusion later this week.
Coincidently, the statement was released just hours after Burma’s Information Ministry jointly celebrated World Press Freedom Day with Unesco in Rangoon. The event was attended by Information Minister Ye Htut, who said that “the Burmese people need to have accurate information from unbiased, independent and varied sources.”
Myint Kyaw, secretary general of the Myanmar Journalists’ Network, said the military’s gag order on MNDAA statements was “ugly.”
“If they are threatening against biased or unbalanced reporting, that is fine. But what they are doing now is a kind of censorship,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Though the statement does not specify what charges those who fail to heed the prohibition might face, it is likely that they would be prosecuted under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act. Under the provision, which prohibits affiliation with groups considered unlawful, violators could face up to three years’ imprisonment.
Since February, MNDAA forces have clashed with the government to regain territory in the Kokang Special Region that the rebel group lost to the Burmese government in 2009. The fighting in northeast Burma has been some of the deadliest in years.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA), which controls the Wa Special Region in eastern Shan State, is holding a summit of selected ethnic leaders from May 1-6 in Panghsan to discuss a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement signed by ethnic negotiators and their government counterparts in late March.