Police officers are seen in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 27, 2021. Preliminary investigations by CPJ found at least 40 journalists imprisoned in the country as of yesterday. (Reuters)

Myanmar must release the dozens of journalists in its jails in wake of military coup

Bangkok, April 29, 2021 — Myanmar’s military junta must immediately and unconditionally release all of the journalists detained since the country’s February 1 coup, and should stop using legal threats to harass and intimidate the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Preliminary investigations by CPJ found at least 40 journalists imprisoned as of yesterday, the majority detained during newsroom raids or while covering anti-coup street protests.

CPJ is researching those cases to confirm the circumstances of the journalists’ arrests and their current status in detention. The preliminary data is based on independent reporting, news reports, and data shared with CPJ by the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a local rights group, and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an independent news organization that the junta has officially banned.

“Myanmar’s military regime has almost overnight become one of the worst jailers of journalists worldwide, with at least 40 members of the press held behind bars,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The jailing of dozens of journalists is blunt and inhumane censorship, aimed at keeping Myanmar’s citizens, and the global public, in the dark about the junta’s often brutal activities.’’

All but two of the detainees identified by CPJ are local journalists working for local outlets, with arrests and imprisonments documented in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Myintkyina, Taunggyi, Pathein, Myeik, Pyay, Dawei, and Myaungmya.

CPJ has confirmed the detentions of at least two foreign members of the press: Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi and American Nathan Maung, editor of the local news outlet Kamayut Media, who was arrested while covering an anti-coup protest on March 9.

Over half of those detained face charges under Article 505(a) of the penal code, a broad provision that criminalizes the dissemination of information or “fake news” that could agitate or cause security forces or officials to mutiny. Convictions under that provision allow for maximum three-year prison penalties.

Many of the detainees have been denied access to a lawyer or family members since their arrests, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma. Two DVB reporters are among those detained, according to Aye Chan Naing, the news organization’s editor-in-chief, who communicated with CPJ by email.

In March, the junta revoked the operating licenses of five privately run news outlets—MizzimaMyanmar Now7Day News, DVB, and Khit Thit Media—and raided several of their bureaus to enforce the ban, as CPJ documented at the time.

Military authorities also in March 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 for their release. The military-run Myanmar Radio and Television claimed the video report was false.

On April 6, CPJ addressed a public letter to junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing calling on his regime to release all journalists detained in the wake of the February 1 coup. 

The Ministry of Information did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on the number of journalists currently held in detention.