The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the harassment of journalists covering protests amid Myanmar’s military coup d’état and called on the authorities to immediately restore internet services.
According to news reports, several journalists were attacked while covering protests in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. On February 1, freelance journalist Ko Thurein Kyaw was beaten while he was covering a demonstration for the Voice of Myanmar. Japanese freelance reporter Hiroki Kitazumi was attacked during a pro-military demonstration in central Yangon near the city hall. Some journalists have reportedly gone into hiding over safety concerns.
On January 31, the Myanmar Press Council published a statement condemning the online harassment against local journalists who had been reporting on demonstrations. “The Myanmar Press Council strongly opposes such threats to journalists and will immediately report the incidents to the relevant authorities and departments”, the council said.
In addition to physical attacks, Myanmar’s media has also been hindered by restrictions on the internet and social media. TV stations and phone lines have also been shut down.
“We strongly condemn attacks on journalists covering the coup in Myanmar and its aftermath”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “This coup is a massive and disturbing step backward in Myanmar’s struggle for democracy and fundamental rights, including freedom of expression. Authorities must reverse course, and the government must immediately lift all internet and communications restrictions, which are a serious violation of the public’s right to information.”
The military seized power in Myanmar on February 1 after detaining the leader of the National League of Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, and President Win Myint. The coup is considered to be reaction on November’s election in which the NLD secured 83 percent of the votes and defeated the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. IPI underscored solidarity with Myanmar’s press and called for an immediate return to democracy and restoration of fundamental rights.
Press freedom in Myanmar has witnessed a rapid decline in the past few years, and there have been multiple cases in which journalists have been charged and imprisoned. Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, spent over 500 days in prison before they were released in May 2019 as part of a larger amnesty.