During the opening of the IPI World Congress on press freedom being held in Yangon, Information Minister U Yet Htut said action may be taken against police involved in the recent crackdown on the students protest in Letpadan.
The International Press Institute is holding its 65th IPI World Congress 2015 at the Chatrium Hotel in Yangon from March 27 to 29, the first time Myanmar has hosted the international press event. More than 200 journalists from more than 60 countries, including Myanmar journalists, are said to be attending.
As a masked protester in the audience held aloft a sign saying stop beating, arresting and imprisoning journalists, U Ye Htut in a panel discussion on media law and practices said that there is an ongoing review being carried out of the video recording of the Letpadan incident and the role of the police.
Videos and photos published in the media show the police rampaging and attacking student protesters and journalists, as well as smashing up protesters’ vehicles.
U Ye Htut, responding to allegations that the police beat journalists and protesters, said action “may be taken against the police” involved in the incident.
The minister told Mizzima that the video files of the incident were being reviewed and necessary follow up training may be carried out for the police. He clarified that this training would not apply to all police, but to particular police units.
Over 100 protesters and journalists were arrested on March 10 at the Letpadan student protest. Dozens of protesters face serious charges that could put them in prison for years.
The media have been calling for a response from the government over the beating of journalists, as well as concerns over Myanmar’s pall of harsh laws that have led to many journalists being imprisoned during President U Thein Sein’s tenure. Many journalists are sceptical that in a culture of impunity, police officers would ever be charged.
The congress is the subject of controversy as some Myanmar journalists are boycotting it due to the presence of Information Minister U Yet Htut. The Myanmar Journalist Network urged the media not to attend the IPI World Congress, not to cover the news related to the meeting, and not to cover news related to the Myanmar government while the congress is being held.
In response to MJN’s decision to urge journalists to boycott the congress, Information Minister U Ye Htut wrote recently on his Facebook page: “IPI is an international organization trying to promote the press freedom. An international conference organized by that group is held every year in a country. For this year, the conference will be held in Myanmar and discuss the issues related to the press freedom in Myanmar the press freedom in the world.”
Story updated 6:30 pm, March 27, 2015 with minister’s clarification.