Bangkok, November 3, 2023—Myanmar’s military regime must immediately release Rakhine State journalist Htet Aung and allow the independent Development Media Group news agency to operate freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Sunday, soldiers arrested Development Media Group reporter Htet Aung while he was taking photos of soldiers making donations to Buddhist monks during a religious festival in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, according to news reports and the agency’s editor-in-chief, Aung Marm Oo, who spoke with CPJ.
Hours later, soldiers, police, and special branch officials raided the Development Media Group’s bureau, confiscated cameras, computers, documents, financial records, and cash, sealed off the office building, and arrested the night watchman, Aung Marm Oo and those sources said. The news outlet’s staff have since gone into hiding, they added.
Aung Marm Oo said Htet Aung has been charged under Section 65 of the Telecommunications Law, a defamation provision that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, and that authorities said he would be held in custody until November 13 while investigations were ongoing.
“Myanmar’s military regime should free Development Media Group reporter Htet Aung, drop any charges pending against him, and stop its relentless harassment of independent local news outlets,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Reporting the news is not, and should not, be treated as criminal activity.”
Development Media Group specializes in news from Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, where in 2017, an army operation drove more than half a million Muslim Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in what the United Nations called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
On the day of Htet Aung’s arrest, Development Media Group published an interview with the wife of a man who was arrested in 2022 and was on trial for incitement and unlawful association in Rakhine State, also known as Arakan State, where insurgents are challenging the military. The woman said her husband was innocent and criticized the regime.
Development Media Group was banned by the previous elected government in 2019 for unstated reasons, and its website was blocked in 2020 over its coverage of the insurgent Arakan Army, according to Aung Marm Oo, who faces pending charges under the Unlawful Association Act and is currently in hiding.
CPJ’s email to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information did not receive any response.
Editor’s note: The quote was updated to correct a typo in the outlet name.