YANGON — Some foreign journalists have left Myanmar and others are preparing to depart after the government tightened visa regulations following critical coverage of the military’s handling of the unrest in Rakhine State.
Several foreign journalists told The Irrawaddy that the visa application process was now much more onerous and even required them to sign a declaration promising not to travel to restricted areas. Some foreign reporters said they had to wait as long as four weeks to get a new visa to re-enter the country after making a trip abroad.
U Win Kyaing, permanent secretary of the Ministry for Immigration and Population, told The Irrawaddy that the changes were part of a wide- ranging overhaul of visa regulations that began last year.
“For the case of the journalist visa, they are required to get a recommendation letter from the MOI [Ministry of Information]. For other visas, that is not necessary,” he said.
However, there appeared to be some confusion among government officials about the new rules with a representative of the Ministry of Information saying his office was no longer providing recommendation letters to foreign journalists.
U Myo Myint Maung, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Information, told The Irrawaddy that before his agency could sign off on journalist visas, it had to secure approval from the ministries of immigration and labor, Immigration and Population.
“In fact, the visa application regulations are not our ministry’s business. It is the business of the Immigration Ministry and the Labor Ministry,” he said.
In the past, the MOI had provided recommendation letters to media workers applying for visas, but U Myo Myint Maung said journalists could now apply directly to an embassy in a foreign country for a 28-day visa.
“We relaxed the restriction on visa applications; they no longer require a recommendation letter,” he said.
However, U Thit Sar Hla Htwe, the secretary of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar, said that as for journalists stationed in Myanmar who were seeking a long-term three- or six-month visa, they still needed the MOI to issue a recommendation letter, which also needed to be approved by both the Immigration Ministry and the MOFA.
He said that the 28-day visas were only for media representatives who did not have an office in Myanmar. “Let’s say they came from Bangkok. The government used to give them a three-month visa and it was multiple entry. They could travel in and out of the country on this visa.
“But, the government is no longer giving them three-month multiple entry visas. They now get only 28 days and it is single entry. Reporters have to apply for a new visa if they want to get back in the country,” he said.
“Many foreign journalists have complained a lot about it,” U Thit Sar Hla Htwe said, adding that a German reporter had called him just on Tuesday and recounted the problems he was having getting a new visa. The MOI even told the reporter that a green registration card from the Myanmar Foreign Correspondents Club was needed before a visa would be issued.
While the MOI claimed that new regulations were issued in December last year, U Thit Sar Hla Htwe said that the new rules only started to be applied in October this year when two journalists from Turkish outlet TRT World were detained in Naypyitaw for trying to fly a drone over Parliament.
Myanmar had previously tightened up on journalist visas in 2014 when violence broke out in Thu Chee Yar Tan, in Maungdaw. But, the former government later relaxed the procedures.