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Myanmar junta escalating media crackdown, alleges rights group

News Agencies | Updated on: 28 July 2021, 8:54 IST

Myanmar's military junta should stop prosecuting journalists and end its assault on independent media, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday.

"Myanmar's junta has made the mass arrest of journalists and control over the media a key component of its seizure of power from a democratically elected government," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the HRW. "The junta's intensifying surveillance, harassment and detention of journalists is rapidly turning Myanmar into one of the region's most dangerous places to be a journalist."

An HRW report said that Myanmar's junta has arrested 98 journalists since the February 1 coup. Out of the total, 46 are currently in detention.

Meanwhile, six journalists have been convicted, including five for violating section 505A of the penal code, a new provision that makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that "cause fear" or spread "false news." "Fake news" appears to be any news that the authorities do not want to reach the public.

On June 30 the Ministry of Information issued a warning to journalists to stop describing the military-appointed State Administration Council as a "junta" or face prosecution. It also warned foreign news agencies to cease using the terms "military council" or "military junta," and to stop "disseminating false news to global people."

The order threatened that "action will be taken against them under the existing laws if they apply wrong usages, quote and exaggerate fake news, and disseminate false information."

The rights group said that the crackdown on journalists is part of the junta's larger effort to suppress independent media coverage of the situation in Myanmar, and to deny the serious rights violations the military is committing across the country.

"If the situation becomes worse, then it becomes not a safe place for us and the only choice would be to leave the country," one local reporter told HRW.

The many arrests and prosecutions of journalists have had a severe chilling effect on independent journalism in Myanmar, HRW said.


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First published: 28 July 2021, 8:54 IST