Police in Mandalay have denied any connection to men in civilian clothing, alleged to be informers, who attacked reporters covering a protest on Monday right in front of law enforcement officials who looked on without interfering.
Three news correspondents, including one from DVB, were covering an electricity price protest in Mandalay when they were physically assaulted by about 50 to 100 men who had arrived at the protest site alongside the police.
Zarni Mann, a reporter for Irrawaddy News Magazine, who was targeted along with DVB’s Eain Khine Myae and Mandalay Era’s Zaw Zaw, said the men immediately blended into the crowd of unsuspecting reporters before unleashing blows with their fists and elbows.
“When we arrived at the scene of the protest there were no police,” she said. “They showed up later along with some plain-clothed men who mingled among the crowd of reporters. I was recording an audio when one of them barged in between me and the police – I thought at first he was a fellow reporter – but then he pushed my face back and elbowed me in the chest.”
Several other journalists claimed they recognised the assailant, as an individual who was seen helping the police arrest four individuals at a similar protest the week before.
When he was spotted by the reporters, some of whom approached him and questioned his motives, the man dashed into a nearby monastery compound and escaped.
Later in the day, around 30 Mandalay-based reporters went to the Divisional Police Headquarters to inquire about the men in civilian attire, but were told by police deputy-commander Col Myint Oo that the police had no informers, according to newspaper editor San Yu who spoke for the journalists at a meeting with the official.
“We asked Col Myint Oo if the men were their informers,” said San Yu. “He denied it, and said his police force did not subscribe to the use of informants. He said he had no knowledge of whether the men in question were from other branches under the Home Affairs Ministry such as the Special Intelligence Department.”
He said the reporters are preparing to write a letter of complaint to the Mandalay Divisional Government with a request to investigate the assault.
Zaw Thet Htwe, an editor and member of the Interim Press Council, said that reporters need to be careful and protect themselves when chasing news during this period before laws are adopted to protect journalists.
“Burma’s president recently signed the Media Law, but we still need to see how it will be applied,” he said. “In the meantime, journalists need to be careful because the authorities can still harass us or arrest us. Police can press charges on us for: disturbing official duties; trespassing; defamation; or even under the Official Secrets Acts for simply entering their premises.”
Zaw Thet Htwe added that he believes the government authorities still see journalists as their enemy.
In late January, several staffers from Unity News Journal were arrested by government authorities for publishing a report on an alleged chemical weapons factory being built by the Burmese army in Magwe division. Four of them, including the chief-editor , were subsequently sued by the government under the Official Secrets Acts, and are facing up to 14 years in prison if found guilty.