Media Organizations Call for ‘Immediate Release’ of Detained Journalists

By Kaung Myat Min & San Yamin Aung 27 June 2017

YANGON — Myanmar media organizations sent an open letter to the country’s leaders on Tuesday calling for the immediate release of three journalists detained by the military while reporting in northern Shan State.

The statement, addressed to the President, State Counselor and the Myanmar Army commander-in-chief, was signed by 25 news outlets, organizations and journalist networks currently attending the fifth annual ethnic media conference in Karenni (Kayah) State’s Loikaw, The letter described the arrests—which took place on Monday—as “restricting and censoring the press.”

“Before charges are brought against [the detained journalists], we media organizations and journalists urge the government to stress the [resolution of this] issue,” U Myint Kyaw, a member of Myanmar Press Council, told The Irrawaddy.

“It is not good for anyone if the media is ‘hands off’ when it comes to reports relating to ethnic armed groups and in terms of access to information,” he said.

The military arrested seven people, including three reporters—The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng, also known as U Thein Zaw, as well as U Aye Naing and U Pyae Bone Naing from DVB—on the road between Namhsan and Lashio townships in northern Shan State. The authorities said they were apprehended on suspicion of connection with the ethnic armed group the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which operates in the area.

The reporters had traveled to a TNLA-controlled area to report on a drug eradication event marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Their whereabouts were still unknown on Tuesday afternoon, as were the identities of the four other detainees.

The open letter highlighted that while the government aims to bring all ethnic armed groups on board its peace process, the arrest of journalists for contacting what was termed a “terrorist group” is not a positive sign for national reconciliation.

Citizens need to receive information from ethnic regions during this time, and the journalists are just trying to fill that requirement, the letter added.

“It is very concerning that the media organizations still can’t reach the whereabouts of their detained journalists and under which exact conditions they were arrested. The journalists were out there just to gather information, not rebelling against the country,” the letter stated.

The Myanmar Press Council also sent the letter to army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday, requesting help in securing the release of the detained reporters.

U Myint Kyaw from the council added that they would try to meet with military representatives soon to discuss the case.

Several other human rights groups, media agencies and associations expressed their concern for the detained journalists and have called for their release.

In a statement published on Tuesday, the TNLA also condemned the military’s arrest of the reporters who had covered their drug eradication event.

The US Embassy in Myanmar also said in a statement on Tuesday that they were “concerned” about the incident. “Journalists needs to be able to do their work, as a free press is essential to Myanmar’s success,” the embassy said.