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Myanmar Journalists Face Legal Fears, Restrictions on Movement

FILE - A local journalist wears an arm band supporting press freedom as he gathers with other journalists during the court appearance of a newspaper editor and a columnist at a township court.
Myanmar Journalists Face Legal Fears, Restrictions on Movement
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Officials in Myanmar arrested three reporters late last month after they attended a drug burning ceremony.

The event marked the observance of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

The Ta'ang National Liberation Army had held the ceremony in northern Shan State. The army, an ethnic militia, has been officially described as an illegal group.

The three journalists were charged under the Unlawful Associations Act. The military has used this law to cut off support for rebels and to frighten media organizations that operated in exile before the move to democratic rule.

At a press event Thursday, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about the journalists. The Nobel Prize winner said their arrests should not be seen as a problem between the media and the military. Instead, she said, the situation should be seen as a question of whether existing laws are just and democratic.

Aung San Suu Kyi said that if existing laws are not helpful to justice and democracy, then the judiciary should try to change them. But, she said, the administration cannot intervene in judicial issues.

“Rule of law means they have to be, first of all, just laws,” she said.

The journalists are set to go on trial July 10. Each could get three years in prison if found guilty.

Rights activists say the Unlawful Associations Act is one of many laws used to stop political opposition, especially by ethnic minority groups.

During years of military rule, the government used the act to detain people linked to rebel groups. The law continues to be used to jail those accused of contact with rebel forces in states facing ethnic separatist civil war.

Officially, Myanmar ended press censorship in 2012. But the reality for the media has been quite different.

In 2015, for example, the military warned the media not to broadcast statements made by the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. Those doing so would "face action under the law," it said.

In 2014, journalist Ko Par Gyi was reporting on clashes in Mon State when he was detained and killed while being held by the military.

The recent arrests come as Myanmar reporters and rights groups urge the government to remove another law often used against journalists: Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act.

Article 66(d) bans the use of telecommunications to insult people. Violators could be fined and receive a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Journalists and rights groups accuse military officers and government officials of using this measure against people who write about them on social media.

Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters on Thursday the national parliament has begun to work on changes to Article 66(d).

I'm Alice Bryant.

This story contains information from reports by VOA News and Radio Free Asia. Alice Bryant adapted them for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

illicit - adj. unlawful of illegal

trafficking - n (gerund). the act or business of illegally buying something and selling it especially in another country

censorship - n. the act of policy of limiting freedom of speech

judiciary - n. judges; courts of law