Myanmar’s Yangon city police first came to arrest the three journalists working for the Eleven Media Group on Tuesday night at about 7.00 pm. Eleven Media editor and spokesperson Ko Oo told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Officers came looking for the three –chief editor Kyaw Zaw Linn, chief reporter Nayee Min, and senior editor Phyo Wai. “They said a case had been opened under Section 505(b),” he said, referring to the section of Myanmar’s penal code that criminalizes the circulation of statements and reports with the intent to cause fear or alarm in the public.
According to Ko Oo, when they told them that the journalists had already left the office building after finishing their work, they waited for about another hour and a half. Later they talked with their publishers and said that they would continue their questions on Wednesday morning at 10.00 either in their office or at the police station.
Police did not mention who had brought charges against the men, or why they were being sought, Ko Oo said, adding that nothing was said concerning any article they wrote that may have caused offense.
Myanmar police arrested the three journalists on Wednesday morning, after their paper criticised the financial management of Yangon's government, which is overseen by a protege of leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Executive editors of Eleven Media, Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win were brought before a Yangon court in handcuffs on Wednesday morning to hear the charges against them before being taken to jail.
Defence lawyer Kyee Myint told AFP the case was filed over an article published on Monday about the funding behind the city's bus network, a scheme run by Yangon chief minister and Suu Kyi confidant Phyo Min Thein.
Defence lawyer told AFP that "All three of them were sent to Insein prison on Wednesday morning after a case was filed against them under section 505(b)."
Section 505(b) of Myanmar’s penal code carries a maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both, and usually does not allow for bail to be granted.
The trio could be fined and jailed for up to two years if a court rules that their story was published with intent to cause -- or was likely to cause -- "fear or alarm to the public".
Their arrest is an "affront to press freedom" and a sign the government is "close to becoming an authoritarian regime," Ravi R Prasad from the Vienna-based International Press Institute said.
"The whole media industry is under threat," said Hlaing Thit Zin Wai, founder of the Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists.
"I even have a bag packed at home as we cannot predict when it will be our turn," he said. Aljazeera
Myanmar government has also faced international condemnation over the jailing of two Reuters reporters in September. Wa Lone 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo 28, jailed for seven years for breaching a law on state secrets during their reporting on the killing of Muslim Rohingya villagers by security forces during a crackdown in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Responding to the arrest of journalists Nayi Min, Kyaw Zaw Linn and Phyo Wai Win in Myanmar on Wednesday, Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's Director of Crisis Response, said:
“These arrests are yet another alarming assault on press freedom in Myanmar, and demonstrate that the authorities in the country are growing more thin-skinned by the day. They should be released immediately and without conditions.
“Journalists have a vital role to play in holding state officials to account and informing the public. These arrests, which came in response to an article criticising financial management by the Yangon Regional Government, send a worrying message to journalists and anyone who tries to question the government.
“Rather than detain journalists for doing their job peacefully, the authorities should repeal the oppressive laws being used to create a climate of fear and intimidation.”
The Eleven Media Group, which publishes five weeklies, has played a fundamental role in the emergence of a civil society in Myanmar and was awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2011.
This is not the first time Eleven Media Group has been targeted by the authorities.In 2016, the Yangon Regional Government investigated two other media workers from Eleven Media for "online defamation" under Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law, after they published an article about the Yangon State Chief Minister.The paper's then editors were jailed over a column that accused a government official of receiving a watch worth $100,000 from a businessman
Yangon authorities said they were unable to comment on the latest charges at this stage. The next hearing will be on October 17.
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