Detained Journalist Says He’s Being Targeted for Covering Labor Dispute

By Lawi Weng 29 July 2019

A journalist who was detained in northern Shan State over a motoring offense claims he is actually being targeted because he reported on a group of amusement park workers who complained of not being paid.

Khun Zaw Oo was detained in Lashio and charged with operating a car without a license. He claimed police detained him at the request of the owner of the company that employs the unpaid workers, saying the businessman was seeking revenge for his reporting.

“I am going to jail today,” Khun Zaw Oo posted on his Facebook page on Sunday before presenting himself to authorities, saying he wanted to fight for justice.

Khun Zaw Oo described the action by the company as a dirty trick.

When someone who is rich complains, he said, the authorities take action immediately. But he questioned whether this was true when normal people do so.

Khun Zaw Oo is a reporter for Democratic Voice of Burma based in Lashio.

On July 22 a group of workers at the Gold Luck Water Park in the town complained to local media that they had not been paid.

Khun Zaw Oo and Ma Myat Moe Thu, a reporter from the Myanmar Times, went to interview U Ye Naing, the owner of the company, hoping to get his side of the story.

According to Ma Myat Moe Thu, when the reporters were in U Ye Naing’s office, he ordered his staff to lock the door and threatened to sue Khun Zaw Oo for reporting on his Facebook page that the Gold Luck Water Park workers had visited the Labor Office in Lashio to complain.

U Ye Naing called several local government departments, including the Traffic Police, asking them to take action against Khun Zaw Oo for driving without a license.

Traffic Police officers arrived at U Ye Naing’s office and began proceedings against Khun Zaw Oo over the alleged driving offense.

Ma Myat Moe Thu confirmed that she and Khun Zaw Oo were threatened by the Gold Luck Water Park company owner when they went for the interview.

She said that when U Ye Naing opened the door to his office he had some large dogs with him. Soon after they entered the office, she said, he threatened Khun Zaw Oo with a lawsuit over his Facebook post.

In the July 22 Facebook post, Khun Zaw Oo said a group of workers had visited the Labor Office to complain about not being paid. He also encouraged other reporters to come and interview the aggrieved workers.

“At firstly, I did not get involved when the two of them [Khun Zaw Oo and U Ye Naing] started arguing. But when I realized that he [wanted to sue], I told him that if he found something wrong in the post, [it was his right to] take action,” Ma Myat Moe Thu told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

She said the company owner, not being able to find any errors in the Facebook post, found that the car the reporters had traveled in had been driven without a license, so he called the Traffic Police.

The two reporters were locked in the office for several hours, according to Ma Myat Moe Thu. The owner of the company threatened to beat the reporters if they attempted to leave, she said.

“I was afraid of his dogs. So I did not dare to walk out of the office. Khun Zaw Oo tried it, but all the doors were locked,” she said.

The two reporters were not able to leave until the Traffic Police arrived, at which point Ma Myat Moe Thu asked the police to escort them out.

Eighty percent of cars in the area are driven illegally, said Ma Myat Moe Thu. Even the police admitted that, but they were obligated to take action against Khun Zaw Oo as someone had made a complaint about it, she said.

Khun Zaw Oo filed a complaint against the company owner for making threats against the pair and illegally detaining them inside the office, according to some local reporters.

U Ye Naing told RFA that he would take whatever action he could against Khun Zaw Oo, accusing of him of making unfair accusations in the Facebook post.

Several media groups including the Myanmar Journalists Network have issued statements condemning the water park owner’s threats against media workers.

“Based on the Media Law and the rights of citizens, he [Khun Zaw Oo] has the right to speak out about rights abuses against workers,” the network said.

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