Media Groups Condemn Police Treatment of Journalists in Letpadan Crackdown

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 11 March 2015

RANGOON — Media freedom organizations in Burma have condemned the actions of riot police during Tuesday’s crackdown on student protests at Letpadan, Pegu Division, which also led to the beating and detention of journalists covering the events.

The interim Press Council said the arrests and beatings had violated Burmese laws, including the Media Law. “We seriously condemn the police force’s action,” the council said, adding that any detained journalists should immediately be released.

On Tuesday afternoon, a standoff between more than 100 student protestors and several hundred riot police escalated into a violent confrontation after students demanded passage to march to Rangoon in order to highlight their calls for an overhaul of the Education Law.

Police armed with batons descended on the students, monks and other bystanders and severely beat dozens of them, while making 127 arrests.

Reporters and photographers were caught in the melee and several were beaten and detained. An Irrawaddy reporter overheard officers shout that media were also to be detained, while two Irrawaddy photographers were hit with batons.

Several other reporters were beaten and Phyo Aung Myint, a journalist with local weekly journal Reporter, was arrested and remained in detention on Wednesday morning.

The Ministry of Information defended the police actions in a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday evening. “Myanmar police forces blocked and controlled [the crowd] in accordance with the law,” it said. “Protest groups moved and destroyed barriers, started to penetrate the blockade set up by police forces and threw stones at police members. Police had to clear the crowd in accordance with the law.”

The statement made no mention of the beatings inflicted upon journalists.

The Myanmar Journalists Network said in a statement that police had targeted the media during the events in violation of the Media Law’s Article 7, which states that reporters covering demonstrations shall be exempt from arrest and “be entitled to ask for their safety and protective measures from security-related organizations.”

“We heard one reporter has been arrested since yesterday, we’ve asked for his release and we condemn this crackdown,” Myint Kyaw, secretary of Myanmar Journalist Network, told The Irrawaddy. He said the interim Press Council should raise Tuesday’s violence during its next meeting with government officials, adding that the media organizations might plan a public response.

The Myanmar Journalists Union also criticized authorities’ handling of the crackdown and treatment of reporters, while calling for the release of all student protestors, monks and journalists in detention.

The Burmese office of Pen International, an organization that promotes literature and freedom of expression, said in a statement, “We solemnly urge the government to stick to peaceful ways while tackling problems that happen among citizens.

“We urge the Press Council and other press associations to take action on the issue,” it said.