Delegates at an ethnic media conference in Loikaw interrupted their forum this morning to pledge solidarity with three journalists arrested yesterday in Shan State, saying they will petition for the reporters’ release with letters to the Burmese president, state counsellor and commander-in-chief.
The three journalists – The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng and DVB’s Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung – were detained with four civilians while travelling back from territory under the control of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which was hosting a drug-burning ceremony yesterday as part of a UN anti-narcotics campaign.
Speaking today from Loikaw, the Karenni State capital, Nai Kasauh Mon, the chairperson of Burma News International, said, “We discussed the matter of the three detained reporters for 30 minutes at the conference this morning. It seems the authorities are again putting pressure on the media, and so we must in turn push back against them.”
On Tuesday, the Myanmar Journalists Association, or MJA, which assists in the protection of journalists’ rights, said it was “saddened” by the incident.
“The Myanmar Journalists Association requests the relevant organisations to undertake prompt measures to free the two senior reporters from DVB and another from Irrawaddy news,” it said in a statement.
Amnesty International joined the chorus of condemnation, urging the Burmese authorities to immediately release the three journalists and allow them to resume their work freely and without fear.
“Their arrests send a chilling message to Myanmar’s already embattled media,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in a statement.
Amnesty International said it fears the seven detainees may be charged under the vague and repressive Unlawful Associations Act, which is frequently used to arbitrarily arrest and detain journalists and activists in ethnic and conflict-affected areas.
“Fearful of any scrutiny of its role in northern Myanmar, where they stand accused of war crimes, the army is doing its best to stop journalists and other observers from accessing these areas,” said Gomez.
Section 17(1) of Burma’s controversial Unlawful Associations Act states that anyone who is convicted of being a member or consorting with an illegal organisation shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than two years but no more than three years, and shall also be liable to pay a fine. The TNLA is technically outlawed as it continues to clash with Burmese armed forces in Shan State.
DVB has still not been able to ascertain the whereabouts of the detained journalists. A statement from the office of Burma’s commander-in-chief indicated that the seven detainees had been transferred to Lashio police station; however, when DVB contacted both that station and Namhsan police, it was told that they had not yet arrived.
DVB’s multimedia editor Khin Maung Soe said on Tuesday afternoon that he had no updated information on the condition of the journalists.
“We are worried for the safety of our journalists,” he said.
Kyaw Soe Oo, the father of reporter Pyae Phone Aung, also expressed fears for his son’s safety. “I want to know where he is, and if I have the chance I want to go to see him,” he said.