Bangkok, May 21, 2021 – Myanmar’s military authorities must drop all charges against Nathan Maung, a U.S. citizen, and Hanthar Nyein, co-founders of the privately held local news website Kamayut Media, and immediately release them from detention, where their families report they have been physically abused, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Authorities first arrested Maung, the outlet’s editor-in-chief, and Hanthar, a news producer, on March 9, according to news reports at the time.
They are currently being detained at Yangon’s Insein prison on charges under Article 505(a) of the penal code, which punishes the dissemination of information or “fake news” that could agitate or cause security forces or officials to mutiny with a maximum three-year prison term, according to the journalists’ families, who communicated with CPJ via an intermediary who requested anonymity to avoid reprisals.
Authorities physically abused them during their initial two weeks of detention at the Yay Kyi Ai interrogation center in Insein Township, the intermediary told CPJ by email. According to the intermediary, the journalists’ families said they were severely beaten around their heads, burnt on their belly, thighs, and buttocks with lit cigarettes, and made to kneel on ice while their hands were cuffed behind them during interrogations.
“Myanmar authorities must drop their charade of a criminal trial against Kamayut Media journalists Nathan Maung and Hanthar Nyein, and set them free,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The abuse their families report in detention is unconscionable and the authorities involved must be identified and prosecuted.”
CPJ initially reported that Maung was arrested covering a protest, but local news reports said that he and Hanthar were arrested in a raid of the Kamayut Media office in Yangon. Kamayut Media stopped its bureau operations after the raid but its remaining staffstill publish online from undisclosed locations, the intermediary told CPJ. Maung and Hanthar appeared in a Yangon court on May 17, and at least four more weekly hearings are scheduled for police to present evidence, according to the intermediary. They are currently being held in individual cells in the same wing of Insein prison, the families said via the intermediary.
Myanmar’s military regime currently holds dozens of journalists behind bars, according to preliminary investigations by CPJ based on reporting, news reports, and research by the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a local rights group. The majority have been detained during newsroom raids or while covering anti-coup street protests, and over half face charges under Article 505(a), that reporting shows.
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.
CPJ emailed the Ministry of Information for comment on Maung and Hanthar’s legal status and allegations they have been abused in detention, but did not immediately receive any reply.