Burma Police to Visit Newspaper Offices to Identify Protesting Reporters

By May Sitt Paing 15 July 2014

Police in Rangoon say they are planning to visit newspaper offices to confirm the identities of about 50 journalists who are accused of staging an unauthorized protest against President Thein Sein.

On Saturday, journalists taped over their mouths outside a meeting at the Myanmar Peace Center in Rangoon attended by the president to register their opposition to the sentencing of five newspaper staffers last week. Four reporters and the CEO of the Unity journal were given 10 years with hard labor after the President’s Office sued them for reporting allegations that a military facility in Magwe Division is being used to manufacture chemical weapons.

After Saturday’s demonstration, police said the journalists named on a list of those present would be charged with Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which requires prior permission for public gatherings. The list includes numerous reporters who were only there to cover the event.

Kamayut Township police officer Zaw Win told The Irrawaddy that police would be visiting the offices of media companies to confirm the identities of those involved in the protest.

“We still don’t have an accurate list of names [of the journalists],” said Zaw Win.

“At the moment, we’ve got only the photos of protesters and we still have to go to each and every newspaper’s office to identify them. Only then, we’ll be able to know their names and write a report [in order to prosecute them].

“We can’t just prosecute them without even knowing their names. If civilians were among the protesters, we’ll also have to confirm their identities,” he added.

Burma’s Interim Press Council is trying to meet with President Thein Sein to express its concerns about recent setbacks to media freedom in the country.

“We’ve asked to meet President Thein Sein,” said council member Zaw Thet Htwe.

“If he refuses, we’ll summon an emergency meeting and reconsider the role of our council. If we can do nothing for press freedom and the rights of journalists and keep going on like this, it is of no use having this council. We’re really disappointed.”