The Flight of Free Press Downed by Myanmar Authorities

In this turbulent and troubling time in Myanmar[1] accurate and brave reporting comes at a high cost. The arrest of two foreign and one local journalist as well as their driver for flying a drone in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, the sentencing of two ethnic Kachin pastors who aided local journalists to report on armed conflict in Shan State, and the continuing plight of Myanmar Now editor, Swe Win, for criticizing those who incite violence in the name of religion highlights the dangers faced by journalists and those who help them.

On 27 October, 2017 two journalists from the Turkish state broadcasting outlet, Turkish Radio and Television, were detained alongside their local fixer and journalist, Aung Naing Soe, as well as their driver. They were charged under the Export and Import Law for flying a drone near the Parliament building in the capital Naypidaw and remain in custody. Given the frosty relations between Turkey and Myanmar due to the Turkish Prime Minister’s labelling of the Rohingya crisis as ‘genocide’ as well as the Muslim faith and work of Aung Naing Soe, it is clear that they have been targeted by the authorities in an attempt to intimidate journalists that seek to report on the suffering of the Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar authorities. Aung Naing Soe, whose past work has included brave reporting on the plight of the Rohingya, had his house searched without a warrant, even though the drone was not his. Very few local news outlets report on the tragedy of the current situation in Rakhine State in terms that give credence or empathy to the suffering of the Muslim Rohingya. Aung Naing Soe, for his reporting and photography on the Rohingya, has previously faced death threats for this work. Furthermore, rumor-mongering that he is associated with the Rohingya armed group from a local news outlet that is particularly abhorrent in its portrayal of Rohingya – Eleven Media – only gives fuel for those who wish to stigmatize and threaten him due to his Muslim faith and his reporting.

This week also saw the sentencing of two Kachin pastors, Dumdaw Nawng Latt and Langjaw Gam Seng under the Unlawful Associations Act and the Export and Import Law, while Dumdaw Nawng Latt was also charged under the Defamation Act. Their crime was for helping local journalists report on the scene of armed conflict between the Myanmar Army and the alliance of ethnic armed organizations – the Northern Alliance – in Mong Ko, Shan State in November 2016. They are sentenced to four years and two years respectively in prison.

Meanwhile the judicial harassment of Myanmar Now editor, Swe Win continues since he was arrested on 30 July, 2017 and charged for criminal defamation under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. His crime was writing a Facebook post that criticized ultranationalist monk, Wirathu. Although residing in Yangon, Swe Win has had to travel to Mandalay ten times since his arrest for court hearings, at many of which the plaintiff has failed to show-up.

The context of falsified news reports, rumor-mongering, and hate speech only underlines the necessity for a free and ethical media to accurately report on fragile situations and vulnerable communities. Colonial and junta era laws such as the Unlawful Associations Act are still being used to persecute journalists, while newer laws such as Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and the Export and Import Law are increasingly utilized to silence people. Yet, more than ever, Myanmar needs a vibrant and free press that has the space to report and express views that go against the mainstream narrative, particularly regarding the situation in Rakhine State. With the huge amount of social pressure and intimidation faced by anyone in the country who is perceived to be a Rohingya supporter already taking its toll on civil society’s voice, judicial harassment of journalists demonstrates an explicit and state-sponsored sanction on dissenting views.

The context of falsified news reports, rumor-mongering, and hate speech only underlines the necessity for a free and ethical media to accurately report on fragile situations and vulnerable communities. Colonial and junta era laws such as the Unlawful Associations Act are still being used to persecute journalists, while newer laws such as Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and the Export and Import Law are increasingly utilized to silence people.

The state of media freedom in Myanmar is at peril as many local media outlets are leaning towards or taking the stance of the government’s narrative on the situation in Rakhine State or at worst, adopting the position of ultra-nationalists. Under such a climate, the brave journalists who are in custody, or facing charges, as well as those who help them to present the realities of the violence and abuse of the State authorities, particularly the Myanmar Army, cannot be forgotten. They must be released immediately and unconditionally and the Myanmar Government must end persecution against independent and ethical media.

The state of media freedom in Myanmar is at peril as many local media outlets are leaning towards or taking the stance of the government’s narrative on the situation in Rakhine State or at worst, adopting the position of ultra-nationalists.


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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

The Problem in Rakhine State is not ‘Quarrel’ but Genocide
By Arakan Rohingya National Organisation

BHRN Calls For Immediate Release Of Journalists And Their Drivers Over Drone Use
By Burma Human Rights Network

‘I Thought I Would Die’ – New Report Details Eyewitness Accounts of Atrocities
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Myanmar: Law and Order, Community Trust Needed to Overcome Humanitarian Crisis
By Dominik Stillhart, director of global operations for the ICRC, on the humanitarian situation in Myanmar

FCCT Statement on the Detention of Journalists Over Drone Import in Myanmar
By Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

Myanmar: Stop Using Landmines, Ratify 1997 Mine Ban Treaty
By Fortify Rights

UN Security Council: Refer Burma to the ICC
By Human Rights Watch

Rohingya Entry Continues in Cox’s Bazar; at Least 2,000 New Arrivals Overnight
By International Organization for Migration

Engel, Chabot Offer Burma Sanctions Bill
By Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH), former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific

Media Release By Shan State Refugee Committee (Thai Border) on U Zaw Htay’s Offer of Aid to Displaced Shan
By Shan State Refugee Committee -Thai Border

ရွမ္းတုိင္းရင္းသား ေရႊ႕ေျပာင္းေနထုိင္သူမ်ားကုိ အေထာက္အပံ့ေပးရန္ ဦးေဇာ္ေဌးမွ ကမ္းလွမ္းျခင္းႏွင့္ပတ္သက္၍ ရွမ္းျပည္ဒုကၡသည္မ်ားေကာ္မတီ (ထုိင္းနယ္စပ္)၏ သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Shan State Refugee Committee – Thai Border

United States Senate: McCAING, CARDIN, DURBIN, BUBIO and Young Introduce Bill to Impose Sanctions on Burmese Officials for Rohingya Atrocities
By U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Democratic Whip, and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Todd Young (R-IN), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Statement of the Women’s League of Burma on the Current Political Situation in Burma
By Women’s League of Burma

အမ်ိဳးသမီးမ်ားအဖြဲ႔ခ်ဳပ္(ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံ)၏ လက္ရွိျဖစ္ေပၚေနေသာ ႏုိင္ငံေရးအေျခအေနအရပ္ရပ္အေပၚ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္
By Women’s League of Burma

Kawthoolei Land Seminar Statement ‘Towards Land Security, Peace and Prosperity in Kawthoolei’
By 53 Civil Society Organizations

လံုျခံဳစိတ္ခ်ရေသာ ေျမယာပိုင္ဆိုင္မႈ၊ ျငိမ္းခ်မ္းမႈ ႏွင့္ ၾကြယ္၀ခ်မ္းသာမႈဆီသို႔ ဦးတည္ေသာ ေကာ္သူးေလ ေျမယာႏွီးေႏွာဖလွယ္ပြဲ
By 53 Civil Society Organizations

Letter from 58 NGOs Calling for Targeted Economic Sanctions in Burma
By 58 Non-governmental Organizations

reports

Reports

“I Thought I Would Die” Physical Evidence of Atrocities Against the Rohingya
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Q&A: Road to Justice for Grave Crimes in Burma
By Human Rights Watch


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

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