Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw and BBC journalist Aung Thura, among other media personnel, were released recently from detention in Myanmar. Their release comes after mounting pressure from the international community to release all journalists and cease the media crackdown. Since the February 1 coup that saw the overthrow of its democratically-elected government, a military government controls Myanmar which has cracked down on independent press coverage of protests resisting the new government, ABC News reports.
Media outlets that covered any aspect of the protests – including arrests, shootings and other forms of control exercised on protesters by the military – have become targets of the crackdown, and five local outlets had their media licenses revoked by the government.
ABC News continues that the country appears to be returning to its previous system of allowing only state-controlled media, as was the case before the country’s first democratic elections in August 2012. Yet before the coup, the quasi-civilian government under former elected President Aung San Suu Kyi targeted journalists for reporting on sensitive topics like the abuses against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population.
According to CNN, dozens of journalists were detained within the past few weeks due to this crackdown, among them Thein Zaw and Aung Thura. The mass arrests of these journalists came just one day after the detention of Kyi Toe, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy and a critical source of information in the initial days following the coup, Al Jazeera reports.
Thein Zaw’s lawyer, Tin Zar Oo, stated that these journalists were charged under a law “that punishes anyone who causes fear among the public, knowingly spreads false news, or agitates directly or indirectly for a criminal offense against a government employee,” according to Time.
The new government amended this law in order to broaden its scope and maximize potential sentencing. According to the Associated Press, the charges against Zaw and other journalists were dropped on the grounds that they were doing their jobs when arrested.
Scott Griffin, deputy director of the International Press Institute, told the Associated Press that “Myanmar must now immediately release all other journalists it is holding. The military junta must stop all forms of harassment and intimidation of media covering demonstrations against the coup and end restrictions on publication and broadcasting by media outlets in the country.”
Others in the international community released similar statements. The U.S., UK, and European Union released a joint statement denouncing “the brutal violence against unarmed civilians by security forces,” BBC News reports. The statement included a call on the government to “to lift martial law, release detainees, end the state of emergency and restore democracy.”
Over 600 protesters were released from detention this week, as the new government scrambles to mitigate the rising protest movement, added the Associated Press.