Bangkok, May 13, 2019 -- Myanmar authorities should immediately cease harassing and threatening to arrest Aung Marm Oo, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Rakhine state-based news agency Development Media Group, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Aung Marm Oo went into hiding after authorities filed a complaint on May 1 seeking his arrest for unspecified violations of the colonial-era Unlawful Association Act, which can result in up to five years' imprisonment and fines, according to independent news outlet The Irrawaddy and the journalist, who corresponded with CPJ.
The Unlawful Associations Act is often used by Myanmar authorities to stifle news coverage of armed conflicts, CPJ reporting shows. Development Media Group, based in Rakhine state's capital of Sittwe, reports regularly on politics, society, and security in western Rakhine state, where government forces are locked in conflict with insurgents.
"Myanmar's press freedom situation has deteriorated to such an extent that a journalist is now in hiding to avoid arrest on undisclosed accusations," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Myanmar authorities should stop harassing Aung Marm Oo and allow his independent media group to continue reporting without fear of reprisal."
Special Branch police under the military-controlled Home Ministry have questioned Aung Marm Oo's colleagues and family members about his whereabouts, including his wife, mother, and brother, the journalist told CPJ by email. He said police searched his home earlier this month and he only narrowly escaped arrest at the time.
Development Media Group reporters Nay Win San and Thet Naing were interrogated about the case at the No. 1 Sittwe police station in Rakhine on May 5 and 6, respectively, Aung Marm Oo said. During those interrogations, police did not indicate what news stories or reporting prompted the accusation, Aung Marm Oo said.
CPJ called the military's public relations arm, the True News Information Team, for comment but did not receive a response.
On May 8, Aung Marm Oo sent a letter to the Myanmar Press Council, an independent body tasked with resolving media disputes, requesting mediation on the case, as permitted under the country's Media Act to prevent frivolous lawsuits against journalists, he said; as of today, the council had not replied.
Aung Marm Oo's harassment comes amid rising pressure on the nation's press by the military; on April 1, Myanmar's military filed an online criminal defamation complaint against The Irrawaddy's Burmese-language editor Ye Ni under the Telecommunications Law's Section 66(d), which carries a possible two-year prison sentence, over the news publication's reports on armed clashes in Rakhine state that allegedly caused civilian casualties, CPJ reported at the time.