Senior General Min Aung Hlaing
Chairman State Administration Council
April 6, 2021
Sent via email
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental, non-partisan organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, writes to request that you order the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists detained in the aftermath of your February 1 suspension of democracy and imposition of emergency rule.
We also strongly urge your interim State Administration Council regime to adequately protect journalists while they cover protests across the country by the Civil Disobedience Movement and others opposed to military rule.
Since your seizure of power from the National League for Democracy-led government, press freedom conditions have rapidly and drastically deteriorated in your country. News reports indicate journalists have been beaten, shot and injured by live bullets and arbitrarily arrested and charged by security forces while merely doing their jobs of covering the demonstrations and your regime’s retaliatory clampdown.
According to data compiled by the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners independent rights group and confirmed by CPJ, your regime is currently holding at least 25 journalists in detention, many of them without charge or access to legal counsel.
According to that data, at least seven of those being held have been charged under Article 505(a) of the penal code, a broad criminal provision that threatens three-year prison sentences for the dissemination of information or “fake news” that could agitate or cause security forces or officials to mutiny.
We remind your State Administration Council that news reporting is not a crime under Myanmar law, and strongly urge your interim regime to reverse course and allow reporters to do their jobs without fear of reprisal.
We are also gravely concerned about reports that specific journalists and news organizations have been deliberately targeted. Your regime has wrongly revoked the operating licenses of five privately-run news outlets—Mizzima, Myanmar Now, 7Day News, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), and Khit Thit Media—a punitive move that clearly aims to stifle independent news reporting. Authorities also raided several of their bureaus to enforce that ban.
Military authorities have also charged The Irrawaddy under Article 505(a) over its publication of a video that allegedly showed police officers asking the family members of arrested protesters to pay 13 million kyat (US$9,200) for their release. The military-run Myanmar Radio and Television claimed the video report was false.
CPJ is deeply worried that your State Administration Council is moving to re-establish the repressive media and censorship policies harshly enforced under previous authoritarian military regimes in Myanmar.
If your military government is genuinely concerned with restoring electoral democracy after one year of emergency rule, as you stated upon staging your February 1 coup, then you should honor that pledge by releasing all journalists held in custody and allowing all reporters to do their jobs free of fear of military repression.
Make no mistake: the world is closely watching events in Myanmar and your response to pro-democracy protests. A genuine move to release and protect journalists, rather than target and harass them, would be a welcome signal about your junta regime’s stated but yet unproven democratic intent.
Committee to Protect Journalists