New York, October 10, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Myanmar authorities to immediately release without charge three journalists from Eleven Media Group arrested today.
Eleven Media's executive editors, Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min, and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win handed themselves over to police today after the Yangon Regional Government accused them of causing "fear or alarm to the public" for a story that published "incorrect information," according to news reports. A court ordered the journalists to remain in custody and they were taken to Insein prison, Reuters reported. The journalists could face charges under legal section 505(b) and if convicted, they could face up to two years in prison, according to Reuters. Section 505(b), a colonial-era law, prohibits publishing information that could cause "fear or alarm," cause someone to commit an offense, or disrupt "public tranquility," according to Reuters.
Separately yesterday, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the civilian government, stated in an interview that "there is a lot of press freedom in Myanmar."
"Using colonial-era laws to silence independent journalists undermines Aung San Suu Kyi's claim that Myanmar is transitioning to democracy," said Robert Mahoney, CPJ's deputy executive director. "Myanmar authorities should immediately release Kyaw Zaw Lin, Nayi Min, Phyo Wai Win, and all jailed journalists."
The case was filed after Weekly Eleven published an article October 8 by Phyo Wai Win on the funding behind Yangon's bus network and raised questions about public spending, according to news reports. According to the local news website Frontier, around 12 police officers searched Eleven Media Group's headquarters last night for the three journalists, who were not there at the time.
The next hearing in the case will be on October 17, according to news reports.
This is not the first time Myanmar authorities have targeted Eleven Media Group. In November 2016, the media organization's chief executive and chief editor were detained under legal section 66(d) for two months in relation to an editorial that alleged Yangon's chief minister may have been involved in corruption, CPJ documented. In 2013, a reporter for Eleven Media Group was sentenced to three months in prison on charges of defamation, trespassing, and using abusive language, CPJ documented.
Despite high hopes for a more open press freedom environment as Myanmar began its transition to democracy under Suu Kyi, CPJ has documented how it has instead backtracked. Last month, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years each in prison.