Myanmar Junta Among the World’s Worst Offenders For Jailing Journalists

By The Irrawaddy 10 December 2021

The number of journalists imprisoned around the world for their work hit a new record in 2021, with Myanmar ranked among the world’s worst countries for jailing journalists since the coup, according to an annual prison census by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The New York-based NGO said in a report issued December 9 that the 293 journalists imprisoned around the world was the highest number since the CPJ started tracking the jailing of journalists in 1992.

At least 24 journalists were killed in 2021 while working, and 18 others died in circumstances too unclear to determine whether they were specific targets, the CPJ said.

Myanmar, which had no journalists in jail last year, came second in the list of worst countries for imprisoning journalists, with only China ahead of it. Since the military’s February 1 coup there has been a significant crackdown on the Myanmar media, with at least 26 media professionals incarcerated at the time the CPJ’s census was conducted.

Neighboring China remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, with 50 behind bars. Egypt, Vietnam, and Belarus, respectively, rounded out the top five.

The situation in Myanmar is even more dire than the numbers suggest, the CPJ said, as many journalists were released ahead of the survey after being detained for several months in notorious interrogation centers and prisons.

There may also be others in custody who have yet to be identified as reporters, out of concern that they could face harsher penalties from the junta if they are found to be associated with the media, added the CPJ.

Ma Kay Zon Nway from Myanmar Now is detained by police while covering a protest in Mayangone, Yangon in February. / The Irrawaddy

Since the military takeover, the regime has targeted journalists with arrests, lawsuits, raids on newsrooms and violence in an attempt to suppress coverage of the junta’s lethal crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters.

Around 110 journalists have been arrested since the coup. Many of them were charged with incitement and contacting an illegal organization just for doing their jobs.

U Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council under the ousted civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) government, noted that the junta arrested journalists while covering protests at first, but later followed them even when they were not working, as well as checking up on former journalists.

Those hostile arrests show that the regime wants to silence press coverage of anti-coup protests and the activities and opinions of the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) and its parliamentary committee, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.

The junta has branded the NUG and its related organizations as terrorist groups.

In the latest incident of junta violence towards the media, two journalists covering a flash mob protest in Yangon were severely injured and then arrested after regime forces deliberately rammed protesters with a pick-up truck. Ma Hmu Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun, a female video journalist with the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, is in critical condition after suffering a serious head injury. Photojournalist Ko Kaung Sett Lin from the same agency was also injured.

Almost all independent journalists have been forced into hiding by the junta’s media crackdown, while the rest are keeping a low profile as they continue to document the regime’s atrocities.

The CPJ noted in its annual report on imprisoned journalists that the number of reporters forced underground or into exile is also a significant blow to the gains made by the independent media under the ousted NLD government.

You may also like these stories:

Myanmar Needs Urgent Humanitarian Assistance

Myanmar Set to Shut Down With ‘Silent Strike’ to Defy Junta

Nearly 500 Clashes Between Myanmar Junta Troops and Karen Rebels Recorded in Two Months