Four journalists from MDIF partners detained in Myanmar

3499Three reporters from two news businesses taking part in MDIF’s Myanmar Media Program were arrested and detained on 26 June. Another has been held since 2 June.

Democratic Voice of Burma reporters Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Naing, and Lawi Weng (photo c/o The Irrawaddy) of The Irrawaddy magazine were detained by the military in northern Shan State after reporting on a drugs-burning ceremony in an area controlled by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. They have been charged under the colonial-era Unlawful Association Act for communicating with a group “currently opposing the country’s rule of law using arms”.

The journalists have been remanded in custody until the case is heard on 21 July. If convicted, they face up to three years in jail. The case has received widespread international coverage and has been widely condemned by, among others, the European Union.

In a separate incident, on 2 June police arrested the Chief Editor and a columnist of MMP partner The Voice newspaper for allegedly defaming the military. The article satirized the military’s role in efforts to reach a peace agreement with rebellious minority groups.

Six weeks after his arrest, which was criticized by international press freedom groups such as The Committee to Protect Journalists, Chief Editor Kyaw Min Swe remains in jail awaiting trial, though charges against columnist British Ko Maung were dropped.

The allegedly defamatory article described how only rank-and-file soldiers had to take part in fighting, while military leaders stepped in later to attend peace talks over wine and photo ops.

The much-criticized Telecommunications Law creates a broadly defined offense that carries a prison term of up to three years. The law was often used by the former military junta to punish critics, particularly members of the pro-democracy movement. To the surprise of many, it has not been repealed by the government of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and is still used to prosecute social media users, activists and journalists.