Authorities in Myanmar urgently need to investigate the arrests and reported beatings by police officers of journalists covering recent protests and to punish all those responsible for the use of excessive force, the International Press Institute or IPI said March 16.
“Reports that police officers targeted journalists seeking to cover demonstrations are shocking,” IPI Interim Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said.
“We condemn violence against journalists who did nothing more than attempt to cover a story squarely within the public interest, and we urge Myanmar’s government to conduct a swift, full, fair and transparent investigation into the incident to ensure that those responsible are held to account,” she said.
“Impunity breeds further violence. Authorities should demonstrate a commitment to upholding media freedom and fundamental human rights by stopping that cycle here and now,” Ms Trionfi said
At least two reporters were detained and many others said they suffered beatings when caught in a violent, March 10 confrontation between baton-wielding police in Letpadan and more than 100 demonstrators attempting to march 140 kilometres south to Yangon in protest of a new education bill.
Journalists attempting to cover the demonstration accused police of specifically targeting them. Some reported that they heard an order to “arrest the media too” announced over loudspeakers as police officers charged toward demonstrators, the event that started the melee.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance reported that Ko Nyan Linn Htun from the Myanmar Post Journal and Ma Phyoe Min Aung of theReporter News Journalwere among some 130 people detained amid a “brutal” crackdownby police in which several reporters said they were beaten. Local sources told IPI that Ko Nyan Linn Htun and Ma Phyoe Min Aung were released after three days in detention.
SEAPA said that other journalists were beaten on March 6 in a similar incident while attempting to cover protests in Letpadan. The group also reported that police in Yangon detained two photojournalists – Ko Myo Zaw Lin of Democratic Voice of Burma and Ko “Nickey” of 7 Days – on March 4 as they covered a protest of striking garment factory workers. SEAPA said authorities reportedly refused to return the two photojournalists’ equipment following their release and issued warnings against their publications in state-owned newspapers.
Ms Trionfi noted that while Myanmar has moved forward in terms of respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, much work still needs to be done.
“As the country readies itself for a general election later this year, we urge authorities to ensure that those elections are fully free and fair,” she said.
“An essential step involves committing themselves to upholding both journalists’ right to cover news and the public’s right to be informed,” Ms Trionfi said.
“It’s for that reason that IPI is holding its annual World Congress in Yangon this month in support of Myanmar’s journalistic community. Among other discussions, the Congress will bring together U.N. free expression rapporteur Mr David Kaye, noted human rights lawyer Mr Toby Mendel and Myanmar Information Minister U Ye Htut to address how ongoing changes in the country can lead to an atmosphere that promotes press freedom, rather than limiting it. We hope that this forum will serve as an opportunity to share concerns about media freedom directly with the government and to make suggestions for better legislation and practices.”