Two editors facing charges under Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law for interviews with the Arakan Army after the ethnic force was declared a terrorist group have gone into hiding to avoid arrest amid domestic and international appeals to drop their cases, supporters said on Wednesday.
Thar Loon Zaung Htet, editor in chief of Khit Thit news agency, and Khine Myat Kyaw, editor in chief of Narinjara news agency, were charged last month under the Unlawful Association Act for publishing the interviews with AA’s spokesman Khine Thukha. They were detained and later released.
Another editor arrested on March 31 with the two men, Voice of Myanmar (VOM) editor-in-chief Nay Myo Lin, was released on April 9 after prosecutors told him could not proceed with the case against him, so they had to free him.
Nay Myo Lin faced up to life in prison had he been found guilty of charges filed by police under two sections of Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law for quoting the AA, which is battling for greater autonomy in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state after it was declared an unlawful association and terrorist group on March 23.
Kyaw Zaw Min, secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, said the group has sent appeals to withdraw the charges against two editors, who are both members of the Council.
“We have sent the appeals for the release of two other editors in the day after the release of the VOM editor. We intend to pressure them to back off<’ he said.
“We sent the appeals to the Minister of Home Affairs, who is the chair of counter-terrorism taskforce, with copies to the State Counselor’s Office, the President’s Office and the military commander-in-chief.”
He said the journalists were just doing their jobs by interviewing the insurgency group spokesperson, which does not mean condoning the group.
“Journalists should be able to contact and interview anybody. It shall not be labeled as supporting a terrorist group. We view this as direct violation of freedom of expression and free press,” said Maung Saungkha, director of Athan, an advocacy group for freedom of expression.
VOM editor Nay Myo Linn said the journalists were required by their profession to “interview both sides of the issue to show complete and balanced views.”
Charging journalists under the draconian acts “has degraded the standard of press freedom of Myanmar,” he said, adding: “This is not proper action for a democratic country.”
The anti-corruption watchdog group Transparency International issued a statement saying it had worked with Khit Thit Media and others in Myanmar on anti-corruption training and civic engagement projects.
“It is appalling that some of these partners are now being persecuted under trumped up terrorism charges for informing the public about the situation in their country. We urge Myanmar’s authorities to drop the charges against these journalists immediately,” said David Ondráčka, a member of the board of Transparency International.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maun Written in English by Paul Eckert.