Shining the Light on Journalists

November 11th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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Since the coup attempt, journalists have faced arbitrary arrest and detention, imprisonment, torture, murder, sexual assault, and enforced disappearances. It’s crucial, now more than ever, that the international community continues to call out these kinds of incidents in Myanmar and put pressure on the junta.

Last week, 2 November marked International Day to End Impunity For Crimes Against Journalists, bringing to the fore the ever-pressing issue of journalistic freedom and freedom of expression in Myanmar. As every day passes since the attempted coup d’état on 1 February 2021, the military junta continues to clampdown more and more on journalistic freedom and freedom of expression. Within the last month, the junta has sentenced Japanese journalist Toru Kubota to 10 years imprisonment on nefarious charges and revoked the license and banned news outlet The Irrawaddy. While Myanmar civil society has valiantly continued to highlight the further suppression of journalism and freedom of expression by the illegal junta in Myanmar, the international community has not responded to their calls for action. It is essential that the light the local media and citizen journalists shine on the situation on the ground in Myanmar continues – as the junta relies on internet blackouts and restrictions on freedom of expression to shield their atrocity crimes, particularly in Sagaing and Magwe Regions.

Myanmar is now one of the most unsafe places on the globe to be a journalist, with more than 140 journalists detained since the attempted coup, and over 60 remaining in prison. At least four have died in custody. Staggeringly, this makes Myanmar the second highest country for jailing journalists. Last week, The Irrawaddy became the latest in a long list of at least 20 media outlets, all being persecuted and banned by the junta, including Myanmar Now, DVB, Khit Thit, 7 Days, Mizzima and other local new outlets. Like many listed here, the Irrawaddy’s offices have been raided multiple times, their staff arrested and charged under the loosely worded Article 505(a) of the Penal Code for “disregarding” the armed forces and 505A for spreading “false news” or “causing fear”. The Irrawaddy has been charged under 505(a) of the Penal Code, under the Telecommunications Law, New Media Law and other laws, some of which is linked to their reporting on junta troops opening fire on pilgrims at the Kyaik Htee Yoe Golden Rock pagoda in Mon State, where at least three women were killed and 19 others injured while on a Buddhist pilgrimage.

Since the coup attempt, journalists have faced arbitrary arrest and detention, imprisonment, torture, murder, sexual assault, and enforced disappearances. It’s crucial, now more than ever, that the international community continues to call out these kinds of incidents in Myanmar and put pressure on the junta – as they have with the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. It’s coming up to the one year anniversary since Soe Naing, a freelance photographer was killed by the junta in custody after photographing a silent strike protest in Yangon but not enough pressure has been put on the junta in relation to this case and others concerning journalists by the international community. Another recent example of the junta’s attack on journalists is the sentencing of a Japanese journalist and filmmaker who focuses on the plight of the Rohingya, Toru Kubota, detained at the notorious Insein Prison. He is the second Japanese national to be detained by the junta, the first being Yuki Kitazumi. Toru Kubota was sentenced on fabricated charges with no evidence or even a semblance of a fair trial – three years for sedition and seven years for violation of an electronic transaction law. This means that no journalist, foreign or Myanmar national, is safe from persecution.

While the junta is working to quash journalistic freedom altogether in Myanmar, they are also undertaking a concerted propaganda and disinformation campaign using their media mouthpieces and online channels such as Telegram to sow false narratives. Since 2021, they block and limit internet and social media access, and have even gone as far as seizing satellite TV dishes that can access different news channels, while their mouthpieces are widely available among the people. The junta is also upgrading their technology to halt the flow of information and quash online freedom of expression through surveillance. They are being trained by Chinese technicians to use spyware and malware to track and obtain information on those in the Civil Disobedience Movement, journalists and other pro-democracy voices online. Free Expression Myanmar and Freedom House in a joint report says that sources of internet users have been imprisoned for their online activities and increased surveillance using Chinese espionage malware, which most adversely affect Human Rights Defenders, journalists and political activists who report regular attempts at being hacked on their devices, email and social media accounts.

Since late January to early May 2022, over 200 people have been arrested for incitement and terrorism for posts on social media in support of the pro-democracy movement. Another concern is the social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, where Human Rights Defenders and activists flock to exercise free speech and disseminate information but face harassment from the military or get inadvertently blocked from social media for sharing their views on human rights. Many are also concerned that Twitter‘s change in leadership will make it more dangerous in Myanmar as the junta threatens pro-democracy Twitter users and utilizes the platform to sow disinformation and psychological warfare.

Overall, the situation in Myanmar for journalistic freedom and freedom of expression is incredibly bleak. The international community has to step up pressure on the junta through targeted sanctions on junta leadership, military businesses and their affiliated businesses, and most of all, blocking the funds to the junta. There also has to be a commitment to promoting and protecting journalists and Human Rights Defenders in Myanmar through supporting the Spring Revolution and National Unity Government. Impunity for crimes against journalists and those exercising freedom of expression continues to persist, and yet the international community has turned their backs on the people of Myanmar. Norway’s Telenor exit from Myanmar is a key example of this, irresponsibly selling their Telenor Myanmar telecommunications business to M1 group which is linked to a military-affiliated local company in a manner that risked handing over millions of users personal data into the hands of the military junta. Without journalists, citizen journalists and activists sharing information online and in publications, the world would be blind to the situation on the ground in Myanmar. The international community has to take up this mantle and support Myanmar people’s collective resistance against the junta so that Myanmar will not fall into complete darkness.


[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


Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar: Investigation Reveals Aviation Fuel Supply Chain Linked to War Crimes

By Amnesty International

ASEAN Should Scrap its Failed ‘Five-Point Consensus’ and Implement Measures to Protect Myanmar’s Civilian Population

By Burma Human Rights Network

Killers of journalists continue to evade justice worldwide

By Committee to Protect Journalists

9 Killed Journalists Remembered on International Impunity Day

By Free Expression Myanmar

အသတ်ခံခဲ့ရသော သတင်းထောက် (၉)ဦးအား “အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာ သတင်းသမားများအပေါ် ကျူးလွန်သည့် ရာဇဝတ်မှုများမှ ပြစ်ဒဏ်ကင်းလွတ်နေခြင်းကို ရပ်တန့်ရေးနေ့”တွင် အောက်မေ့သတိရမိခြင်

By Free Expression Myanmar

ASEAN: Act to Stop Myanmar Military Abuses

By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar: New Report Condemns Junta’s Silencing of Independent Media

By International Federation of Journalists

JFM Calls for a Ban on Jet Fuel Exports to Myanmar and Sanctions on Myanmar Jet Fuel Companies

By Justice For Myanmar

ANZ, UOB and BIDV transacting with Myanmar military controlled Innwa Bank after sanctions

By Justice For Myanmar

Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Keynote Address at the 37th ASEAN Roundtable, 1 November 2022

By Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore

ငြိမ်းချမ်းရေးလုပ်ငန်းစဥ် ဦးဆောင်အဖွဲ့ ဦးဆောင်မှုကော်မတီ (PPST-LC)၏ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံလုံးဆိုင်ရာ ကျောင်းသားများ ဒီမိုကရက်တစ်တပ်ဦး ဖွဲ့စည်းတည်ထောင်ခြင်း (၃၄)နှစ်ပြည့် အခမ်းအနားသို့ ပေးပို့သည့် ဂုဏ်ပြုသဝဏ်လွှာ

By Peace Process Steering Team



Deadly Cargo: Exposing the Supply Chain that Fuels War Crimes in Myanmar

By Amnesty International

“Time is not on our side”: The failed international response to the Myanmar coup

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Caught at the Crosshairs of the Climate Change and the Coup: Indigenous people in Myanmar Speak up on the Junta’s plundering of Myanmar’s Forests

By All Burma Indigenous Peoples Alliance

Killing with impunity: Vast majority of journalists’ murderers go free

By Committee to Protect Journalists

The Revolution Will Not Be Broadcast – Myanmar: IFJ Situation Report 2022

By International Federation of Journalists

On the ground in Burma: A digital Briefer Issue 21

By US Campaign for Burma

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.”