“This is worrying for press freedom,” Voice of Myanmar website editor Nay Myo Lin rightly said this morning after a court hearing in the central city Mandalay, where he was arrested yesterday and is now facing a possible life sentence under sections 50(a) and 52(a) of Myanmar’s anti-terrorism law.
Nay Myo Lin was arrested over an interview with a representative of the Arakan Army (AA), a rebel group seeking autonomy for northwestern Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the country’s Rohingya minority has been the target of ethnic cleansing.
Headlined “Peace Process has stopped,” the interview was published on 27 March, four days after the authorities decreed the AA to be a terrorist organization, effectively putting an end to the peace process.
“We call on Kyaw Swa Lin, the judge who ordered this journalist’s detention, to dismiss these utterly absurd and disproportionate terrorism charges,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Nay Myo Lin complied fully with journalistic ethics and published this interview with the aim of serving the public interest by helping to restart the talks needed to end the conflict in Rakhine State.”
Surge in harassment cases
Myanmar’s legislation provides for a Media Council which, in theory, should deal with any complaint about an article published in the media. In practice, the authorities continue to bring criminal proceedings against journalists.
RSF published a press release in July 2019 about a surge in cases of journalists being threatened, intimidated and jailed as a result of judicial harassment by the military and police. This was two months after Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists serving a seven-year prison sentence, were finally pardoned and released.
After falling seven places in the two previous years, Myanmar is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.