Bangkok, October 22, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Burmese authorities to immediately release a freelance journalist who has been in official custody for nearly a month after covering armed clashes between ethnic rebels and government forces in southeastern Burma.
Aung Kyaw Naing, a Burmese freelance journalist based in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, was reporting from an area held by the rebel Democratic Karen Benevolent Army before he was apprehended in the government-controlled township, reports said. Naing contributes news and photos to local Burmese publications Eleven Media, Yangon Times, and The Voice, according to local journalists and news reports.
The exact date of his detention is unclear, but local reports citing his wife, Than Dar, said he was taken into custody between late September and early October by police or military authorities in Kyaikmayaw Township of Mon State.
Than Dar said in a press conference on Tuesday that police told her Naing was being held at the Light Infantry Division 208’s local base and that he had been beaten while in army custody. When Than Dar made inquiries about her husband at the base, a military official said Naing had been handed over to the Border Affairs Ministry, news reports said.
Mon State Border Affairs Minister Htay Myint Aung said Naing had been detained by police and handed over to local military commanders, according to an Irrawaddy report. The official said Naing was still being held at the battalion base and that he was unaware of the reporter’s current condition. It is unclear if Naing has been charged.
Than Dar filed a missing persons report and a complaint of possible kidnapping with Kyaikmayaw police on Sunday, according to news reports.
“We call on Burmese authorities to account immediately for journalist Aung Kyaw Naing’s location, well-being, and legal status,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “We are gravely concerned by reports that Naing may have been physically abused while in military custody. The allegation underscores the need for the journalist to be freed immediately and for there to be a rapid and transparent accounting for his disappearance.”
Burma’s military and media are increasingly at loggerheads over the reporting of security-related information perceived as sensitive. Four journalists and the chief executive officer of the local Unity newspaper were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor under the 1923 Official Secrets Act this year for reporting on a secretive military installation in the country’s central Magwe Division. Their sentences were later reduced to seven years each.
Burma is holding at least nine journalists in jail, all of them sentenced to prison in court decisions this year, according to CPJ research.