BANGKOK – Three journalists from the military-ruled Myanmar who were convicted of illegal entry after fleeing to Thailand have been sent to a third country where they are safe, their employer said on Monday.
The three staff members of the Democratic voice of Burma, better known as DVB, were arrested on May 9 in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai, along with two other people from Myanmar who are described as activists. On May 28, they were each fined $ 128 (4,000 baht) and sentenced to seven months in prison, suspended for one year.
Law groups and journalists’ associations have urged the Thai authorities not to send them back to Myanmar, where it is feared that their safety would be jeopardized by the authorities. The government of Thailand has relatively cordial relations with the military regime of Myanmar.
Myanmar’s junta took power in February by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and sought to destroy the widespread opposition to its takeover with a brutal repression that left hundreds dead. The junta tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting journalists.
All five people convicted in Chiang Mai of illegal access recently left Thailand for third countries, DVB’s executive director and editor-in-chief, Aye Chan Naing, said in an email. Without elaborating, he said he could not name where they were being sent “as the matter is very sensitive.”
He thanked ‘everyone in Thailand and around the world who helped make their safe passage possible and strive for a positive outcome’, and said the workers would resume their duties in the near future after they ‘recovered from their ordeal’.
At least two other DVB journalists have been jailed for their reporting. DVB, an independent news and online news agency, was among five local media outlets banned from broadcasting or publishing in March after their licenses were canceled. Like other banned media, it continued.
According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 90 journalists have been arrested since the takeover, with more than half still in custody, and 33 hiding. Those still detained include two U.S. citizens, Danny Fenster and Nathan Maung, who worked for the media in Myanmar.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said the US had detained contact with Maung but had not yet had consular access to Fenster. “We push it in every way we can,” Blinken said in Washington testimony Monday in Congress.
He reiterated that the US was bringing the detained journalists home.
Window, the managing editor of the news and business magazine Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon Airport while trying to get to the Detroit area to see his family.
Maung is editor-in-chief of the Myanmar news website Kamayut Media. The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists, citing media accounts in Myanmar, said Maung was arrested in March.