Monday, May 16, 2022

Myanmar’s arrest of journalists an ‘extraordinary attack on freedom of expression’, says UN

YANGON, MYANMAR / WASHINGTON – Myanmar’s media community is experiencing a critical moment, with a number of journalists being detained or charged, says the editor of Frontier Myanmar.

Sonny Swe, founder of Frontier Myanmar, one of the leading independent news sites in the country, spoke to VOA Burmese on Tuesday after the arrest of the store’s managing editor, Danny Fenster.

The American journalist Fenster (37) was detained at an airport in Yangon, his office reported.

Swe confirmed that Myanmar’s military authorities had moved Window to Yangon’s Insein Prison.

“We are trying to work on his release as soon as possible. We have lost contact with him since (Monday),” Swe said. “So far we simply do not know exactly why and how it happened. As far as legal representation is concerned, the US Embassy in Yangon is trying to help its release.”

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A State Department spokesman said Monday the United States is aware of reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in Myanmar.

“We take our responsibility to assist American citizens abroad, seriously and keep an eye on the situation,” the spokesman said.

Swe said Frontier Myanmar was “shocked and surprised” to hear of Fenster’s arrest.

“We are sure he is not doing anything wrong while doing his job responsibly. We did not expect such an arrest,” Swe said, adding that the office is trying to find out what happened.

The arrest will not change anything about the operation of Frontier Myanmar, Swe said.

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FILE – AP journalist Thein Zaw, middle, waves outside Insein Prison after his release, March 24, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. Thein Zaw was arrested during a protest against the coup in Myanmar.

It is one of only a handful of independent outlets still in operation since the military overthrew the civilian government on 1 February.

“Hopefully there will be no interruption in our work,” Swe said. “We worked hard professionally, no reason to change our job suddenly.”

The founder of the news office told VOA that Myanmar’s media was “going through this critical moment of the country, under difficult circumstances” and added that he was concerned.

“Journalists should not be arrested,” Swe said. ‘I would like to call [on] involved authorities to release and drop complaints, not only for Danny Fenster, but also for all detained journalists. I pray for the release of all detained journalists. ‘

‘Extraordinary attack’

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power, with almost daily protests across the country. During the coup, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted. She is facing several criminal charges.

The coup took place almost three months after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide election. The junta alleges election fraud, a charge the civil commission denies.

Myanmar’s Relief Society for Political Prisoners says more than 800 protesters and bystanders have been killed by the military since the coup and more than 4,300 people have been detained.

A United Nations spokesman said on Tuesday that at least 88 journalists had been arrested, including Window. “As of today, at least 52 journalists remain in custody, and eight media outlets have revoked their licenses. On May 12, one journalist was convicted and sent to prison for three years,” the spokesman said.

“The arrest of journalists and the violence the army is using on anyone caught reporting or recording their actions is an extraordinary attack on freedom of expression in Myanmar,” the spokesman said.

The junta detained journalists accusing them of incitement, restricting internet access, banning satellite broadcasts and revoking the licenses of various news organizations.

It said measures such as internet blocks were needed to protect national stability. In March, a military spokesman said they were only arresting journalists who were stirring up unrest.

Local and foreign reporters detained

Window was the fourth foreign journalist arrested since the coup to arrest a Polish reporter and a Japanese photojournalist twice. Both were subsequently deported. Another U.S. citizen arrested, Nathan Maung, remains in custody, Reuters reported.

FILE – Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi raises his hands as he is escorted by police upon arrival at the Myaynigone Police Station in Sanchaung Township in Yangon, Myanmar, February 26, 2021.

“We are absolutely stunned and very confused about why Dan was detained,” said Fenster’s brother, Bryan, in comments made available by Frontier Myanmar. “We are assured that there is no concern for his safety, but we are undoubtedly very concerned.”

The Vienna-based International Press Institute said the arrest of Fenster “proves once again that local and foreign journalists are not safe from arbitrary arrests in Myanmar.”

“The international community must respond vigorously to the increase in the detention, violence and intimidation of journalists in Myanmar over the past few weeks, which is an unacceptable attack on press freedom,” the Media Watchdog Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said in a statement.

Local journalists who are in custody are in difficult circumstances. The family of Kay Zune Nway is worried about her health, says a person familiar with the case of the Myanmar Now journalist, who requested anonymity.

Kay Zune Nway was arrested on February 27 while protesting in Yangon.

“The prison authorities accused Kay Zune Nway of going on a hunger strike to protest while fasting as a Muslim during Ramadan, and then punishing her in solitary confinement,” the person who spoke anonymously said. “Her family is concerned about Kay’s poor health from nerve and stomach problems. According to the recently released prisoners, Kay has been repeatedly questioned in jail.”

Nilar Khine, a lawyer representing Kay Zune Nway, told the VOA Burmese the journalist had a June 3 court hearing.

The prison’s editor-in-chief, Voice of Myanmar’s editor-in-chief, Nay Lin, said family members should not visit their relatives in jail. Nay Lin and his colleague Shine Aung were arrested on April 27.

Media arrests continue as Myanmar increases military repression

Myanmar’s army detains more than 80 journalists, blocking independent reporting as repression escalates following overthrow of civilian government

Some journalists and newspapers have moved their operations outside Myanmar to try to protect the staff.

However, three journalists for the broadcaster Democratic Voice of Burma were arrested in Thailand on May 9, on charges of illegal entry into the country. They are being held in an immigration detention center.

The Thai Foreign Ministry is reportedly working with foreign embassies to try to move the journalists to a third country rather than deport them.

In Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index, Myanmar ranks 140th out of 180 countries, with 1 being the freest. The media watchdog said earlier this year that the military coup in Myanmar could put the country’s journalists back ten years.

This story has its origins in the Burmese service of VOA. Some reporting from Reuters.

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