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Media Groups Worry for Freedom of Press in Burma

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Four reporters and one CEO from the Unity journal were sentenced to a 10-year jail term with hard labor last Thursday, having been convicted of violating state secrets in a January 25, 2014 news report that the Burmese military was producing chemical weapons.

In his radio speech broadcasted on July 7th, President Thein Sein Said, “I would like to warn that those who use [freedom of the press] to endanger the national security, instead of reporting constructively for the country, will face effective action under existing laws.” However, the government handed down the 10 year sentences with hard labor just a few days following the President’s speech.

Three editors and one reporter from the Bi Mon Te Nay Journal were also arrested for questioning by the Police Special Brand during the night of July 8th, in response to a report in the Bi Mon Te Nay Journal’s weekly news journal that “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic democratic forces were elected by the people as an interim government, issued by the MDCF.”

The three editors and one reporter from Bi Mon Te Nay Journal were arrested in the middle of the night, and families were not provided any information as to where they would be detained. The reporters were harassed during their period of detention and interrogation, leaving many to question if the government has acted democratically.

Notably, the government has not taken any action against individuals who have published photos on the social networking site, Facebook, of reporters gathering news of the recent riot in Mandalay City. These individuals are also threatening to target reporters and threatening to beat them up and kill them, while the government remains silent.

In late June, 2014, the Special Branch (SB) of Myanmar Police Force and the Ministry of Home Affairs investigated financial records of private local news journals and questioned various journals’ staff numbers and numbers of published issues. However, the SB did not officially inform the journal offices of their investigation, nor did they inform them of which laws they were in violation of, or who had ordered the investigations. The SB told the newspaper groups that they came to investigate, as requested by the government, but failed to provide further detail or confirmation.

As President U Thein Sein’s government claims to provide freedom of press to its citizens, it is apparent that the charges and sentences brought against Burma’s reporters and editors are unjust.

IMNA would like to remark that the arrest and sentencing of reporters on various charges, as well as the government’s current oppression of the media, leaves many media groups to continue to worry that U Thein Sein’s so-called ‘democratic’ administration is, in fact, the same as the former government’s administration.

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