The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the latest arrests of journalists covering protests in Myanmar and called for an end to all attacks on media in the country.
Protests in Myanmar have intensified since the military coup and last weekend saw a marked rise in violence by security forces against demonstrators and journalists.
According to reports by the U.N. Human Rights Office at least 18 protesters were killed and 30 more injured during the protests on Sunday, February 28, making it the bloodiest day since the beginning of the anti-coup demonstrations in early February.
Seven journalists present at the demonstrations were arrested on that day alone. Among those detained were Kay Zon Nway, a reporter for Myanmar Now; freelance photojournalist Shin Moe Myint, who was beaten by police officers; and a reporter for Myay Latt Voice news agency, who also suffered injuries from rubber bullets, according to media reports.
Another reporter, Salai David, working for the local Chinland Post Media, was reportedly arrested the following day, Monday March 1.
On Saturday, February 27, more than 10 local journalists from news outlets such as 7 Day News, Myanmar Now, Monywa Gazette, the Hakha Times, and The Associated Press were detained by security forces in areas such as Yangon, Monywa, and Chin State, according to the independent Burmese news website The Irrawady.
KO Lay, a journalist working for the local news outlet Monywa Gazette, was arrested on Saturday while reporting live over Facebook in the city of Monywa. Previously, Japanese freelance journalist, Yuki Kitazumi, was reportedly detained for several hours by security forces on Friday, February 26 in the city of Yangon, while covering the protests.
“The latest arbitrary arrests of journalists in Myanmar reflect the military’s growing efforts to suppress coverage of the protests and its increasingly brutal repression of them”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “All detained journalists must be immediately released. The international community must put pressure on Myanmar’s military to end all attacks on the press.”
Calls for release
The arrests were met with widespread condemnation. After AP journalist Thein Saw was arrested in Yangon on Saturday, Ian Phillips, AP vice president for international news Ian Phillips, called for Thein Saw’s immediate release. “Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution”, Phillips said.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar likewise called for the “immediate and unconditional release of Thein Zaw and other detained journalists”, urging the government “to ensure the safety and security of the journalists who are performing their professional duties covering the ongoing protests in the country”.
OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani issued a statement on Sunday denouncing the violent crackdown on the protests, highlighting that “the police and security forces have targeted an ever-increasing number of opposition voices and demonstrators by arresting political officials, activists, civil society members, journalists and medical professionals”.
Internet blockings continue
In addition to the recent arrests, as reported by the internet monitoring group NetBlocks, Myanmar has been facing weeks of nightly internet shutdowns imposed by the military junta, targeting the pro-democratic protests and news coverage. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were also blocked by the regime.
The protests follow the February 1 military coup in Myanmar in which the democratically elected government was overthrown. Rallies against the regime have been intensifying for weeks, with protesters denouncing the military dictatorship and demanding the release of members from their government, such as President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Although Myanmar has moved toward an increasingly democratic political system in recent years, there were issues regarding press freedom even before the military coup. Most prominent was the case of two Reuters journalists and Pulitzer Prize winners, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were put on trial for their reporting on the Rohingya genocide.