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Myanmar: Five journalists freed as human rights abuses escalate

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The military regime of Myanmar has released five journalists jailed under arbitrary incitement and dissent charges in an amnesty on so-called ‘humanitarian grounds’ of 2,153 prisoners on May 3. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN), in urging the junta to immediately release all journalists still in detention, and calling on the international community to do all it can to resolve the crisis in Myanmar and hold perpetrators of gross violations of international human rights law to account.

The five media workers had all been sentenced under the amended Section 505 (A) of the country’s Penal Code, which criminalises ‘causing fear, spreading false news, or agitating directly or indirectly criminal offences against a Government employee.’

According to Democratic Voice of Burma, among the released was photographer Zaw Tun, also known as Blake, who was arrested alongside freelance photographer Ko Soe Naing on December 10, 2021, after photographing an anti-military protest in Yangon. Soe Naing became the first journalist known to have died in custody since the military takeover, dying only five days after his arrest.

Mizzima journalist, Nyein Nyein Aye, also known as Mabel, was released from Tharyarwaddy prison in Myanmar’s Bago Region, while photojournalist Zaw Lin Htut, also known as Phoe Thar, freelance reporter Yin Yin Thein, also known as Nabar, and editor Kyaw Zeyya were also freed.

At least 176 journalists have been arrested and four killed since the military coup on February 1, 2021, with as many as 50 still in jail or police detention after the recent mass pardon.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) reported that as of May 3, 2023, the Myanmar military has killed at least 3,459 people, including four media workers and arrested another 20,883, including 282 children. 13,719 people are still in detention, 143 people have been sentenced to death and four have been executed since the military’s coup on February 1, 2021.
According to the IFJ’s annual Killed List for 2022, Myanmar is now the world’s second-highest jailer of journalists behind China.
The country is now in the grip of a bloody civil war as Myanmar citizens attempt to defend and fight for the continuation of a legitimate democracy amid serious human rights abuses, including detentions, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, use of civilians as human shields, and targeting of children. The IFJ’s report released in November 2022, called on international governments to increase pressure on the military leadership in every way possible, including the use of laws to sanction violators of international human rights outside of the country.
The MJN said: “The release of these journalists is a positive step. However, there are still as many as 50 journalists in prison who do not deserve to be detained for doing their job – journalism is not a crime.”
The IFJ said:“While the release of five journalists is a positive development, the IFJ urges Myanmar’s military to immediately free all jailed media workers and political prisoners and cease its chokehold on the country’s press. The international community must do more to guarantee the Safety of Journalists and Human Rights in Myanmar and to reject the military junta in every possible forum where such participation only serves to give a voice to a regime that is slaughtering, torturing and jailing its citizens.”

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