Journalists from Eleven News including chief editor sent to Insein Prison

Editor in chief of Eleven media Kyaw Zaw Linn (C), escorted by police gestures in handcuffs as he arrives Tamwe township court in Yangon on 10 October 2018. Photo: Thura/EPA

Myanmar police Wednesday arrested three journalists after their paper criticised the financial management of Yangon's government, which is overseen by a protege of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in the latest case to spark concern over press freedom.

Rights groups criticised the detention of the three from Eleven Media, which comes as the latest in a long series of cases brought against the media under vague and outdated laws.

Executive editors Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win were hauled in before a Yangon court in handcuffs on Wednesday morning to hear the charges against them before being sent to Insein jail.

Yangon Region government Director Aung Kyaw Khaing prosecuted the journalists on behalf of the Region Government under section 505(b) of Penal Code after an article appeared in Weekly Eleven journal on October 8.

Eleven Media senior editor Wai Phyo wrote the article under the title ‘Close all ever losing gas stations, school buses bought with money from unknown lender, Public share in individual’s name’. Advocate Kyee Myint who represents the journalists said his clients were prosecuted for facts contained in the article.

“Section 505 has exemption. This exemption says it will not be a crime if the writing of news is based on true facts. We will defend our clients on this ground,” Advocate Kyee Myint said.

The Township court remanded the three journalists in judicial custody. The court fixed the next hearing for October 17.

Section 505(b) of Penal Code carries a maximum punishment of three years imprisonment or fine or both if found guilty.

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 added.

The arrests came just a few weeks after the sentencing of two Reuters journalists to seven years in jail at the end of what was widely seen as a sham trial, during which a police officer testified that they had been set up.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had been investigating the extrajudicial killing of Rohingya men during a violent military crackdown last year against the stateless minority.

Civilian leader Suu Kyi -- a figure once lionised by the international community for her commitment to human rights -- has caught ire over the jailing, with the UN blasting Myanmar for waging "a political campaign against independent journalism".

In an interview with Japanese news outlet NHK published Tuesday, Suu Kyi said "there is a lot of press freedom in Myanmar", and suggested that those criticising her government "study what the press is doing from day to day in the country".

The Region Government did not send a complaint to the Media Council as per the Media Law but made direct complaint to court for a prosecution.

It is not the first time Eleven Media Group has been targeted by the authorities.

In November 2016, 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 who later won plum contracts.

Additional reporting AFP

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