Media, Rights Groups Urge Authorities to Release Arrested Journalists

By Rik Glauert 27 June 2017

Human rights groups and local media have urged authorities to release three journalists detained by Myanmar’s military while working in northern Shan State on Monday, as the reporters’ editors say their whereabouts remain unknown.

Myanmar’s military arrested seven people, including the three journalists, traveling in two vehicles near Phayagyi Village on the road between Namhsan and Lashio townships in northern Shan State on Monday, according to a statement from the office of the commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw.

Editors from The Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) said the whereabouts of the three journalists—The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng, also known as U Thein Zaw, and U Aye Naing and U Pyae Bone Naing from DVB— were still unknown on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve lost contact with [the reporters],” U Than Win Htut, an editor of DVB, said in a statement released on Tuesday, adding that there had been conflicting reports of the three being detained in both Namhsan and Lashio township police stations.

The reporters traveled to a Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)-controlled area to report on a drug-burning event to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and were arrested on suspicion of connection with the TNLA and handed over to police, according to the Tatmadaw’s Monday statement.

“Their families and colleagues are worried; we contacted phone numbers provided by the police and military, but we cannot get a clear answer,” U Than Win Htut said. “We are in the dark.”

Chief editor of The Irrawaddy Ko Aung Zaw called for Lawi Weng and the DVB journalists to be released, saying “we are ready to cooperate, under the proper conditions, with authorities for their release.”

“Lawi Weng was just doing his job, gathering news. He has not committed any crime,” he added.

Amnesty International described journalists’ critically important work as “under threat” by the Myanmar government’s draconian laws and said the recent arrests sent a “chilling message,” in a statement released on Monday.

“These journalists must be immediately and unconditionally released, and allowed to resume their work freely and without fear,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, according to the statement.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said it was time for Myanmar to repeal Myanmar’s 1908 Unlawful Associations Act, believed to have been used to charge the journalists, in a tweet posted Tuesday. “Stop using colonial laws to arrest & punish journalists & activists,” he tweeted.