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Myanmar: End harassment, imprisonment of journalists

    May 02, 2015

    Released 3 May 2015 00.01 am Myanmar time / 2 May 05.31pm GMT

    At least a dozen media workers in Myanmar will spend World Press Freedom Day (3 May) behind bars as authorities are leading an intensifying crackdown on journalists, Amnesty International said in a statement today.

    The past year in Myanmar has been marked by an increasingly restrictive climate for media, as authorities have resorted to old tactics of harassing and imprisoning journalists.

    “The fact that 12 media workers will spend World Press Freedom Day languishing in prison speaks volumes about the reality journalists face in the country. The past years have seen a vibrant media scene emerge in Myanmar, but the authorities are doing their best to undermine this. Those journalists who dare to report on topics considered ‘sensitive’ by the government or military are harassed and imprisoned,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

    “With crucial general elections fast approaching, a free press will be more important than ever in Myanmar. Those media workers imprisoned simply for their peaceful journalistic work are prisoners of conscience and must be released immediately, and authorities must respect the right to freedom of expression.”

    Among those imprisoned are five media workers from the weekly Unity newspaper – Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw, Sithu Soe and Tint San – who were each sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act in July 2014, later reduced to seven years on appeal. On World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty International activists from around the world will take part in a social media campaign to demand the Unity media workers’ release.

    The full statement is below:

    Myanmar: Release media workers jailed for peaceful journalistic activities

    On World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all media workers imprisoned in connection with their peaceful journalistic activities.

    At least 12 media workers in Myanmar will spend World Press Freedom Day in jail. Amnesty International considers them all prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and other human rights. They join a growing number of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.

    In July 2014, five media workers from the weekly Unity newspaper – Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw, Sithu Soe and Tint San – were each sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, later reduced to seven years on appeal. Their arrest followed the publication in Unity in January 2014 of an article on an alleged secret chemical weapons factory in central Myanmar. Authorities responded by arresting the five and seizing copies of the newspaper across the country. According to state media, they were charged with “disclosing State secrets, trespassing on the restricted area of the factory, taking photographs and the act of abetting”.

    The Unity workers join at least seven other journalists and media workers currently behind bars who have been sentenced to imprisonment in the past year. They include five media workers from the Bi-Midday Sun newspaper who are each serving two years in prison for publishing false claims that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders had been elected as an interim government. In March this year, two media workers from the Myanmar Post Weekly were each sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for criminal defamation after being accused of misrepresenting a military member of parliament’s speech in a headline.

    Wide-ranging political, economic and political reforms since 2011 have seen the emergence of a vibrant media environment in Myanmar. However, the authorities are undermining this environment by harassing and imprisoning journalists who dare to report on topics considered ‘sensitive’ by the government or military.

    Amnesty International is also calling for an end to the threats, harassment and other forms of intimidation faced by journalists in Myanmar as a result of their work. This is not only impeding their ability to undertake their important work – it has also created a chilling environment for free speech and critical voices ahead of key elections later this year.

    The Myanmar authorities should also ensure that journalists and other media workers are able to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression and carry out their journalistic activities, including reporting on public events, such as protests and demonstrations, without fear of reprisal or arrest.

    Background
    The arrest, detention and imprisonment of media workers takes place in a broader context of restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Myanmar.
    Despite a public commitment by President Thein Sein to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013 as part of political reforms, scores of human rights defenders, political activists, land activists and farmers continue to be arrested, charged and imprisoned simply for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, creating a new generation of prisoners of conscience.

    The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It includes the right “to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds”. Journalists and other media workers must be able to carry out peaceful journalistic activities including sensitive investigations without fear of reprisal or arrest.
    Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar authorities to release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and to drop charges against all those facing prosecution simply for peacefully exercising their human rights.

    The organization is also calling on Myanmar to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the earliest opportunity, incorporate its provisions in to domestic law, and implement them in policy and practice, as a key step in strengthening protections of the human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the country.

    For more information, please contact John Tackaberry, Media Relations
    613-744-7667 ext 236