Gov’t Newspapers Refuse to Publish Open Letter in Support of Detained Reuters Reporters

By Moe Moe 26 December 2017

NAYPYITAW—The agency in charge of publishing advertisements in state-run newspapers have refused to print a statement of support for two detained Reuters journalists written by a group of their Naypyitaw-based colleagues.

Twenty-six journalists based in Naypyitaw went to the Information Ministry on Dec. 21 and asked to purchase advertising space in order to publish an open letter in which they expressed solidarity with Ko Wa Lone and Ko Moe Aung, who were detained by police in Yangon on Dec. 12.

The unpublished statement calls for a fair trial for the two journalists and insists they were doing their professional duty by supporting the public’s right to information. It also urges concerned ministries to explain the situation publicly, and calls for the pair to be released as soon as possible.

A few days after the letter was submitted, however, the ministry’s advertising department said that it would not publish the statement.

“The [state-run newspapers] said the ad would not be allowed for the time being. We asked why, but an official in the department said he was not authorized to speak,” said Ko Nyan Hline Lin, chief of Frontier Myanmar’s Naypyitaw Bureau.

“We cannot allow the open letter to be published for the time being. We ask for your understanding,” ministry deputy director U Thet Paing Htoo, who is in charge of the advertising department, told The Irrawaddy.

“The ad request was rejected on the authority of the ad department, not the Information Ministry,” he said.

According to U Thet Paing Htoo, the state-run newspapers’ editorial board scrutinizes all advertisements and decided not to run the statement because the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has already released statements about the two journalists, he said.

The two Reuters journalists were arrested for allegedly violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act by illegally acquiring information about the conflict in northern Rakhine State. They were detained while returning from a dinner to which they had been invited by police in Yangon’s Mingalardon Township. Family members have not yet been allowed to see the two.