Three detained Myanmar journalists were officially charged under a colonial-era law and sent to prison in Thibaw on Thursday for covering an event hosted by an armed militia in northeastern Shan state, a local police official said.
Seven men, including two reporters from the independent online news outfit Democratic Voice of Burma and one from the online journal The Irrawaddy, were detained on Monday as they left a drug-burning ceremony held by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). They were accused of associating with an illegal group.
But only six—the three journalists and three drivers—were transferred to the police station in the town of Thibaw on Thursday, where they were charged with violating Myanmar’s Unlawful Association Act of 1908, said Thibaw deputy police official Myint Kyaw.
The whereabouts of the sixth man are not known.
“Major Thet Naing Oo from [Myanmar armed forces] Infantry Unit 503 has filed charges against these six people under Section 17(1),” he said.
Rights activists say the section is one of many legal statutes used to suppress political opposition, often in the case of ethnic minority groups. It carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and a possible fine, an officer said.
Police transferred the men to the prison in Thibaw, where authorities said their family members can visit them in accordance with the detention center’s rules and regulations.
Their trial date is set for July 10 at the Thibaw courthouse.
International rights groups, the American embassy in Myanmar, and domestic journalists have called for the immediate release of the three journalists who were covering the narcotics-burning event.
Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said the government should free Aye Naing, Pyae Phone Naing, and Thein Zaw and allow them to continue their work.
“Using the archaic Unlawful Associations Act to incarcerate journalists is an affront to democracy in Myanmar,” he said.
Zaw Htay, spokesman for President Htin Kyaw, placed blame for the arrests on the journalists themselves, saying that the three should have informed security forces of their presence in a conflict area, the Associated Press reported.
Full story: rfa.org
Reported by Wai Mar Tun, Tin Aung Khine, and Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
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