Press freedom in Myanmar is under relentless attack from the junta, journalists said Wednesday, amid an ongoing crackdown on the media by authorities that led to the first death of a reporter since the military seized control of the country 10 months ago.
On Tuesday, 30-year-old freelance photographer Soe Naing was confirmed to have died while in detention, days after his Dec. 10 arrest while documenting a nationwide “Silent Strike” boycott against junta rule to mark Human Rights Day in Yangon’s Latha district.
Colleagues and friends told RFA’s Myanmar Service that Soe Naing was a seasoned photographer who had covered many events and protests since the military removed Myanmar’s democratically elected National League for Democracy government in a Feb. 1 coup. Soe Naing’s family have asked his friends to remove posts on social media about his death and refused to answer media inquiries.
A reporter who declined to be named, citing fears for his security, told RFA on Wednesday that what happened to Soe Naing was inevitable, as the military increasingly represses society and seeks to cover up its rights abuses.
“All these photojournalists and videographers are people who can produce solid proof of their violent and unjustifiable acts, and so they never show leniency to journalists,” he said.
“Lengthy jail sentences are given without any justification, just because people are holding cameras at the time of their arrest. And now the situation is getting worse. They took away a guy and killed him once they discovered he was a photojournalist.”
The reporter urged the international community to call more loudly for the protection of journalists who are increasingly threatened by the junta. Paris-based journalist watchdog group Reporters Without Borders also called on countries with a free press to condemn Soe Naing’s killing and the “escalation in terror against reporters” and to implement sanctions against the junta leadership.
‘They regard journalists as enemies’
Aung Gyaw, a correspondent with the Democratic Voice of Burma who was arrested by the military and later released as part of a Sept. 28 general amnesty, said that junta soldiers often torture journalists at interrogation centers, and that he had also fallen victim to such abuse.
“They’d read the news and no matter what the news agencies wrote, they tortured me, beat me, or kicked me with their heavy boots,” he said.
“They regard journalists as enemies. They would say, ‘All you reporters write things similar to this,’ and would beat me, even though the story had nothing to do with me. They hate journalists with all of their being.”
Myint Kyaw, a former member of the Myanmar Media Council, said it was unacceptable that the junta’s interrogation methods had led to a journalist’s death.
“I can understand they do not like journalists for writing reports about protests and anti-coup actions. But I cannot see any justification from any angle for why one should die during an interrogation,” he said.
“I’m not saying this because he was a newsman. Many innocent civilians also have died in recent months in such situations. I think there should be a valid explanation or accountability for this death as the death of a journalist represents the death of greater press freedom.”
Repeated attempts by RFA to contact the junta’s Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Wednesday.
According to RFA investigations, as many as 110 journalists have been arrested since the coup and at least 53 are remain held in various prisons throughout the country. At least 57 journalists are currently imprisoned in Myanmar, according to Reporters Without Borders. The group ranked Myanmar 140th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, published in early 2021.
The junta has arrested more than 8,000 civilians and killed 1,343 since February, mostly during non-violent protests of the coup, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
— Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.