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Arrested Myanmar journalists slam army over free speech

July 18, 2017

Three Myanmar journalists who are facing jail for their reporting accused the army on Tuesday of trying to silence the media, as fears grow for free speech.

Irrawaddy reporter Lawi Weng said the military was trying to “threaten” journalists into silence as the trio were remanded in custody for another week at an impromptu hearing.

“I am now in handcuffs because I am a journalist. Is this democracy?” he told reporters outside the courthouse in the northeastern town of Hsipaw, holding up his chained wrists.

“We were detained as an attempt to compromise our beliefs and scare us. But we are not afraid.”

Aye Naing, a senior reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma, added: “This is a shame for Myanmar, which is shouting to the world that we are on the path to democracy.”

Also appearing in court Tuesday was Pyae Phone Aung from the Democratic Voice of Burma.

They were among seven men arrested three weeks ago as they left a drugs-burning ceremony organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, one of several rebel groups fighting the state.

Five of them have been charged under section one of the draconian Unlawful Associations Act, which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.

The legislation was often used against journalists and activists by the military, which ran the country for half a century and remains a powerful force under the new elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The democracy icon has faced a growing chorus of international criticism for not doing more to protect journalists, who are facing increasing prosecutions under her leadership.

Earlier this month Suu Kyi reportedly told a press conference that the case was a matter for the judiciary.

It comes amid a groundswell of activism among local journalists aimed at quashing a controversial online defamation law which has been used to curb criticism of the government and army.

Prosecutions under the legislation have surged since Suu Kyi’s party came to power last year, with social media satirists, activists and journalists increasingly targeted.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.