Aung Zaw, founder and editor-in-chief of The Irrawaddy, told CPJ that Myanmar’s junta said it would take legal action against the outlet for their reporting on October 14, 2022. (Photo Credit: The Irrawaddy)

CPJ condemns Myanmar military junta’s harassment of The Irrawaddy

Bangkok, October 21, 2022 – Myanmar’s military regime must cease its harassment of The Irrawaddy and allow the independent news organization to report without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On October 14, Myanmar’s junta announced on state television that it would take legal action against The Irrawaddy for reporting that military forces opened fire on Buddhist pilgrims during an October 12 firefight with anti-junta insurgents in eastern Mon State, according to news reports and The Irrawaddy’s editor-in-chief Aung Zaw, who communicated with CPJ by email and messaging app.

In the broadcast, the junta called The Irrawaddy “blatant liars” and said it would be suing the outlet under the Electronic Transactions Law, News Media Law, and the state defamation law, according to those reports. Aung Zaw said the junta has not formally contacted The Irrawaddy about the charges.

The BBC’s Burmese Service, which continues to operate a bureau inside Myanmar, was also mentioned in the junta’s legal threat, reports said.

The military regime banned The Irrawaddy and several other independent news outlets after staging a democracy-suspending coup on February 1, 2021, according to news reports and CPJ reporting. The Irrawaddy has defied the ban and continues to publish daily news online.

“The Myanmar military’s crude and constant harassment of The Irrawaddy is an abomination and must stop immediately,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The Irrawaddy epitomizes the type of independent news reporting Myanmar’s junta is bidding to outlaw, but its growing abuse of arbitrary laws to target and jail journalists is ultimately a sign of its illegitimacy and weakness.”

The junta’s October 14 announcement was the latest in a series of actions it has taken to harass and intimidate The Irrawaddy and its staff.

On September 29, at around midnight, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officials searched the home of a senior editor of The Irrawaddy in Yangon and interrogated his parents and siblings about his whereabouts, Aung Zaw told CPJ.

On the same night, police officers also visited the house of The Irrawaddy’s former director Thaung Win, who was taken to an interrogation center and is currently being detained at an unknown location, Aung Zaw said.

In April 2022, former Irrawaddy photojournalist Zaw Zaw was arrested and detained at Mandalay’s Obo Prison, Aung Zaw said. He was formally charged in June under Article 505(a) of the penal code, an anti-state provision that bans “incitement” and “false news” that has been used widely by the regime to detain, convict, and sentence journalists, the Irrawaddy reported.  

Police and soldiers raided The Irrawaddy’s office in downtown Yangon twice in late 2021, even though it had ceased news operations there since being banned, Aung Zaw said.

In March 2021, the junta charged The Irrawaddy under the penal code’s Article 505(a) for “disregarding” the armed forces in its reporting on anti-coup protests, the Irrawaddy reported, and Aung Zaw confirmed to CPJ.

The police opened a case against The Irrawaddy as a whole rather than individual reporters, making it the first news outlet to be sued by the regime after the coup, according to the report and Aung Zaw, who was the recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2014.

CPJ emails to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information and BBC Burmese did not receive a reply.

Myanmar was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2021, according to CPJ’s December 1 prison census. Several journalists have been jailed for incitement, an anti-state charge that Myanmar’s military regime has used broadly to stifle independent news reporting since the coup in 2021.