Bangkok, March 12, 2015–Journalists covering a security force clampdown on a student protest in central Myanmar on Tuesday were harassed, attacked, and detained by police, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the assault on and detention of journalists and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all reporters in police custody.
For more than a month, students have protested in the central town of Letpadan against a new education law that they said threatens to restrict academic freedoms, according to news reports. In Tuesday’s protest, police and agents in plainclothes used batons, sticks, and other objects to attack student protesters and journalists covering the protest, according to news reports. Police arrested more than 100 individuals, including journalists, after the protesters breached a police barricade intended to block them from traveling to the country’s commercial capital, Yangon, news reports said.
“If journalists cannot cover newsworthy events without being beaten or arrested, then Myanmar’s supposed media reforms have truly amounted to nothing,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We call on Myanmar authorities to respect the civilian status of journalists and allow the media to cover the country’s growing number of anti-government demonstrations without fear of reprisal.”
Police arrested Phyo Aung Myint, a journalist at the local Reporter News Journal, and Nyan Lin Tun, a reporter for the local-language Myanmar Post, as they were covering the protests, according to news reports and CPJ’s correspondence with local editors and journalists. It was not immediately clear if the journalists had been charged or what allegations they face.
Several journalists reported being beaten by security forces while covering the protest. Sai Zaw and Steve Tickner, photographers for the exile-run news outlet Irrawaddy, said they were struck by batons and rocks while they were trying to photograph the protests, the outlet said. Nyan Gyi, a videographer for Democratic Voice of Burma, said police hit him with a baton but that he did not sustain serious injuries, according to DVB‘s editor-in-chief, Toe Zaw Latt, who told CPJ by email. Police also beat Ko Myo, a reporter with the local Pyi Htaung Su Daily, who sustained injuries to his head and body, according to Ma Thida, president of Myanmar Pen, who told CPJ by email.
The Myanmar Press Council, a quasi-independent local press group, issued a statement cited in reports that said journalists covering the protest “neither supported, nor condemned, nor participated in the protest.” The council said the arrests of and attacks on journalists violated various laws, including a recently enacted Media Law that includes provisions guaranteeing press freedom.
Journalists covering protests in Myanmar face increasing risks. On March 4, DVB reporter Myo Zaw Lin and 7Day Daily journalist Ko Nikki were detained while covering a labor protest in Yangon, according to reports. Both were released the same day without charge, but state-run media reported they were held for violating a media code of conduct, according to DVB editor Toe Zaw Latt, who did not give further details.