Burmese journalists took to the streets in Rangoon on Sunday to mark the UN International Day to End Impunity For Crimes Against Journalists. The demonstration was staged to send a message to the Thein Sein government to take active measures to protect reporters within the country.
About 100 demonstrators gathered in solidarity in front of Rangoon City Hall wearing black wrist bands to protest what they say is an ongoing repression of media freedom in Burma and the continuing arrest of reporters.
Led by the Myanmar Network of Journalists (MNJ), the protestors lit candles and circumambulated Sule Pagoda, praying for the safety of journalists.
Myint Kyaw, general secretary of the MNJ, said that journalists are constantly under threat and often criminalised in Burma. He also noted that despite the proclaimed reformist outlook of the Thein Sein government, it remained mum when two journalists were beaten up in Lashio and the perpetrators got away with it.
MNJ’s Shwe Hmong pointed to the cases of journalists from Unity Journal and Bi Mon Te Nay who had been jailed recently for crimes closely associated with news reporting.
However, journalists in Burma are not just victims of the government but also the clusters of armed groups and insurgents within the country. “If they [insurgents] go unpunished for their crimes, violence will continue,” said Myint Kyaw.
The outcry against the murder of journalist Par Gyi by the Burmese army last month is still freshly etched in the minds of the media community at home and abroad. An investigation was called by President Thein Sein as the US embassy urged a transparent probe into the journalist’s death.
“In the Asia-Pacific last year, a journalist was killed at the rate of one every ten days,” said the stated the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in a statement to mark the day of action. “Already in 2014, 33 journalists and media workers have lost their lives including 13 killed in Pakistan alone.”
Through the social media campaign #whatareyoudoing, journalist communities across Asia aim to hold government leaders and policymakers accountable for crimes against reporters.
To raise awareness about the hostile environment of reporting and the numerous lives lost while reporting true stories from the field, IFJ launched a 22-day “End impunity campaign” on Sunday.
IFJ Asia-Pacific Acting Director, Jane Worthington, said: “This campaign is reminding the world that journalists do matter. They have families who love them, they are mums and dads, ordinary people; all carrying out the important and increasingly dangerous duty to keep society informed. But for every reporter threatened, for every life extinguished, democracy also suffers the ultimate price.”