YANGON — Military personnel threatened to charge Myanmar Now reporters under the Official Secrets Act and asked them to promise not to disclose to the media their brief detention while reporting on the alleged recruitment of a disabled child soldier, the editor of the news website’s Burmese edition said.
The incident occurred outside of the No. (6) Pathein Military Training Camp in Ayeyarwady Region, Zarny Win said.
“They asked them to delete all the data they had,” he said.
Win Nan Dar, Kay Zon Nway and Phyo Thiha Cho were briefly detained by military officers while they interviewed the mother of a disabled child soldier outside of the No. (6) Pathein Military Training Camp on Saturday.
An estimated 20 people wearing civilian clothes and claiming to be military officers from the training camp surrounded the Myanmar Now reporters and took them into a house near the camp. Some of them were angry and threatened to charge the reporters under the Official Secrets Act and other laws, Zarny Win said.
“We can’t confirm their ranks but I am sure they are not high ranking officers from the military camp,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Myanmar Now reporters have been chasing an in-depth story on the alleged recruitment of a disabled child solider who is believed to have been taken to serve at a military division in Pathein Township.
Myanmar Now published the first story on the topic on June 20. It said 16-year-old Thet Min Paing was allegedly recruited by the military three months ago while working on a rubber plantation in Dawei city, Tanintharyi Region, southern Myanmar.
Zarny Win told The Irrawaddy that the reporters went to Pathein city for a pre-arranged appointment with Thet Min Paing’s mother. But his mother also had an appointment with the officers inside the camp in the afternoon.
Hoping to get the latest information, the reporters waited until the mother’s discussion with military officials had finished. After that, they interviewed the mother outside of the camp. However, the editor said his reporters did not conduct interviews or take photographs inside the camp.
Starting in the morning, Myanmar Now reporters requested permission from camp military officers for an interview to balance the story, but the officers refused.
The military officers seized a memory card from a camera and also inspected computers, phones, bags and a hard disk belonging to the reporters. The military officers also took copies of reporters’ ID cards and home addresses, the editor said.
To mediate, the Myanmar Now editor contacted the Myanmar Press Council, Deputy Minister of Information U Aung Hla Tun and the director general of the State Counselor’s Office, U Zaw Htay.
The reporters were detained at around 3:00 pm and released at around 5:30 pm, the editor confirmed.
Swe Win, an editor from Myanmar Now, officially posted at around 6:00 pm on Facebook a message thanking the mediators.
“It was a good outcome that they accepted Press Council intervention,” Myint Kyaw, a member of the council, said.
When the military has concerns they should always come to the media with them, he added.
During the brief detention, an officer told the Myanmar Now reporters that the military had been re-examining the child solider case after the case was reported on social media.
“However, we have good news. According to the military members [who detained the reporters], the child solider will be released. As far as we know, the [release] process could take one month,” the editor said.
The Myanmar Now case comes amid the ongoing detention of two Reuters journalists on suspicion of violating the Official Secrets Act after allegedly being given classified documents by two policemen in 2017.
The Irrawaddy tried several times to contact a spokesperson from the Military True News Information Team regarding the Myanmar Now reporters’ brief detention but he did not answer the phone.