PEN America responded to the arrest of three journalists from the Eleven Media Group in Yangon this week, calling for their immediate release and for the charges against them to be dropped.
The three Eleven Media journalists—executive editors Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min, and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win—were detained by police October 10 and later ordered to be held in custody in Insein prison by the Tamwe Township Court, according to news reports.
They face charges under Section 505(b) of the Myanmar Penal Code, a colonial-era law banning publication of “incorrect information” that could cause “fear or alarm to the public,” and could face up to two years in prison. The case was filed by the Yangon Regional Government following the publication of an article by Phyo Wai on October 8 that shed light on the alleged mismanagement of public funds by officials. A further hearing has been scheduled for October 17.
Eleven Media Group journalists have been arrested in the past for investigating corruption by high-ranking politicians; in November 2016, Eleven Media’s chief executive and chief editor were detained after publishing an opinion piece on corrupt officials.
PEN America has stressed its concern about press freedom in Myanmar following the arrests.
“The ability of the media to investigate and report on the actions of government officials is an essential element of a strong democracy,” noted Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “However, dissenting voices are increasingly being stifled in Myanmar and reporters are being jailed for their work, creating a chilling effect on the profession. We call on Myanmar authorities to cease using repressive laws to stifle the press, and to allow journalists to conduct their work in the public interest without fear of legal harassment and imprisonment.”
As PEN America notes, following the historic November 2015 elections, in which the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a decisive victory, and the establishment of a civilian-led government in March 2016, hopes were high that the space for free expression in Myanmar would widen considerably.
However, under the present government, an increasing number of journalists have been arrested and jailed for their work, dozens of cases have been filed against individuals for online expression under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, and access to information–particularly from the conflict areas of Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin states–has been restricted. Earlier this year, PEN America awarded its annual PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award to imprisoned Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were convicted under the Official Secrets Act after what PEN America claims was a sham trial and sentenced on September 3 to seven-year prison terms. Their families are currently petitioning for their release.