Myanmar’s military leaders are deploying forces, both armed and digital, to stifle news coverage.
A court in military-ruled Myanmar has jailed two journalists under a colonial-era law that was recently revised to make spreading “false news” a crime, as part of a continuing crackdown on reporting in the troubled country.
A military court in southern Myeik on Wednesday sentenced Aung Kyaw of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Zaw Zaw, a freelance reporter for Mizzima News, to two years in prison over their reporting of the anti-coup protests that have swept Myanmar since the generals under Min Aung Hlaing seized power on February 1, the two publications said.
Aung Kyaw, who live streamed his arrest, is the third DVB journalist to be jailed since the coup triggered a wave of protests and calls for the restoration of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The security forces have responded with force, and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been tracking arrests and deaths says 841 people have killed in the violence.
The military has also cracked down on independent media, revoking the licences of a number of news organisations, including DVB and Mizzima, It has also restricted access to the internet and banned satellite television.
“The military junta is illegally detaining Aung Kyaw,” DVB said in a statement on Wednesday calling for his release.
“This is a clear violation of both national and international laws by the Burmese junta.”
Mizzima said Zaw Zaw was one of five of its staff detained since the coup and called for his release.
“Mizzima firmly believes that journalism and the right to freedom of expression is not a crime and that Mizzima and all independent Myanmar media outlets should be allowed to freely function in Myanmar,” it said in a statement on its website.
— Mizzima News (@MizzimaNews) June 2, 2021
According to the Reporting ASEAN monitoring group, 87 journalists have been arrested since the coup and 51 are still in detention.
Human Rights Watch condemned the sentences and said the charges were “politically motivated and bogus”.
“The military’s move to go after journalists from respected Burmese media outlets like DVB and Mizzima is all about strangling any independent narratives about what’s happening in Myanmar, and trying to drag the people of the country back to the dictatorially imposed isolation that characterized the rule of previous military regimes,” deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
A number of foreign journalists have also been detained including two US citizens.
Danny Fenster, the managing editor of independent publication Frontier Myanmar, was arrested on May 24 as he was leaving for a trip back home.
Frontier said on Monday it had yet to receive any information on his whereabouts or wellbeing.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday that the US had pressed the military to release Fenster and Kamayut Media Editor Nathan Maung, who was arrested in March, and that she had raised the issue with other countries in the region.
“The detention of Daniel and Nathan, as well as the use of violence by the Burmese military to other journalists, constitutes an unacceptable attack on the freedom of expression in Burma,” Sherman said in a call with media in Bangkok, referring to Myanmar by its former name.