Burma’s Special Branch Questions Journal Editors

By The Irrawaddy 23 July 2014

RANGOON — Three editors from the Myanmar Herald journal were temporarily detained for questioning on Wednesday by Special Branch police officers and asked about the weekly newspapers financial affairs, according to staff.

The latest questioning of journalists came amid a slew of court cases brought against the press, and just as Burma’s Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann called on President Thein Sein to show “tolerance” of the country’s media.

Aung Htun Lin, an editor at the Burmese-language Myanmar Herald, told The Irrawaddy earlier on Wednesday that police officers came to the journal’s offices and took three editors for questioning at the Special Branch headquarters at Aung Tha Pyae, without explanation.

Special Branch has announced it is investigating newspaper finances and has paid visits to the offices of other media outlets in recent months. Other journal staffers questioned have not been taken to Aung Tha Pyae, a notorious interrogation center, however.

Those detained were Editor-in-Chief Kyaw Zwa Win and two other editors, San Win Tun and Aung Ko Ko, he said.

After being released seven hours later, Aung Ko Ko said police asked the three where the Myanmar Herald’s funding came from.

“We told them we run our own finances and we do not get any finances from others,” said Aung Ko Ko.

A number of incidents in recent weeks have cast doubt on the gains made in press freedom in the country since the government abolished pre-publication censorship in 2012 and last year allowed privately owned dailies to publish for the first time in decades.

Early this month, four reporters and the CEO of the Unity journal were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor after reporting that a military facility in central Burma was being used as a chemical weapons factory.

A number of other journalists have been threatened with charges of protesting without permission after they held a demonstration against the Unity sentencing. Reporters, editors and the publisher of the Bi Mon Te Nay journal have also been detained for publishing a report the government claims posed a threat to the country’s stability.

The recent curbs on the press have sparked international concern, but on Wednesday dissent came from an unlikely source in Shwe Mann, the house speaker and chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.

He told Parliament that he had written to Thein Sein about the issue after he received a letter from Burma’s interim Press Council asking for Parliament to consider the recent troubles media has encountered.

Reading from his letter to the president, Shwe Mann said, “The country is just reforming, and media are keen to do their reporting, but the media is immature and not experienced. The Union Government should have tolerance of their actions, and, as I know, the Union Government is working toward this in accordance with the rule of law.”

Both Parliament and the executive branch of the government should consider the issue carefully, Shwe Mann said.

“By doing this, we believe that the misunderstandings and concerns about the current situation from the media will be reduced, and then the current movement toward democracy will go more smoothly.”