All photos by the author.
All photos by the author.

Letter from Myanmar: Journalism under attack

Myanmar’s civil society and journalists are divided over the landmark freedom-of-press case.

In September 2018, youth of Yangon came out in dozens to protest, gathering outside Yangon's central Mahabandula Park under the scrutiny of the police. They demanded the right to information and the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Mostly under 30, the activists were energised and chanting slogans of "Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo". The placards they held up read: "If press freedom is shut down, democracy will fail", "The public has a right to information" and "A massacre is not a state secret" – bold statements in a country where many media organisations blackout any news about the Rakhine State, except the official narrative.

Myanmar journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and his colleague Wa Lone were found guilty of breaching the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this month. They were arrested in December 2017 while investigating a mass grave in Inn Din village in the Rakhine State. It was established during the trial that they were trapped by the police who invited them to a Yangon restaurant to handover 'secret' documents. The story they were working on was later published in February 2018 by Reuters and the policemen responsible for the Inn Din killings were sentenced. Human-rights defenders, however, say the judgement against the two journalists sent a clear message that Myanmar would punish anyone revealing atrocities happening in Rakhine – it would be considered an anti-national act. Not only has the government banned the use of the word Rohingya, terming them 'Bengalis', but prevented reporting on the Rakhine, even banning the team of United Nations investigators from visiting the area.

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Himal Southasian