Burma deports Australian reporter covering protests

New York, May 8, 2014–An Australian journalist covering protests in Burma was deported by authorities today, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the move.

The exile-run news outlet Irrawaddy reported that today’s case was the first time a journalist had been forced to leave the country since 2012, when President Thein Sein’s administration started taking measures to address its restrictive anti-press practices.

“Deporting journalists harkens back to Burma’s half-century of military rule and is one of many signs that democratic reforms have been illusory,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “Burma should allow foreign journalists to enter the country and report freely.”

Angus Watson, 24, an intern video journalist for the exile-run news website Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), flew out of Yangon today after authorities accused him of violating the terms of his visa by participating in a protest, according to news reports. Watson was covering protests in the Magwe region against a one-year jail term given to another DVB journalist last month, according to news reports.

Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and deputy minister of information, said in a statement on Facebook that Watson was on a business visa but had broken the law when he “participated in a protest that did not have government permission,” The Associated Press reported.

“Ye Htut’s comment that I was involved as a protester is baseless,” Watson told CPJ today. “I was at the protest only in the capacity as a DVB journalist. It seems as if my deportation is another attempt to intimidate media workers with the use of legal clauses unrelated to press law.”

Earlier this year, Burma’s Ministry of Immigration began denying three- to six-month visas for foreign journalists working for exiled media groups, including DVB, according to Irrawaddy. Some were given visas for only two or three weeks. To counteract the move, some journalists with foreign passports began applying for business visas, while others had used business visas before the new restrictions were imposed, the report said.