The following statement has been issued by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in relation to the journalists who met up with members of the TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army) in Myanmar (Burma) and who have disappeared after being seized by the Burmese military.
The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) is deeply concerned by the Myanmar military’s detention of three local journalists earlier this week in eastern Shan State.
Thein Zaw from The Irrawaddy as well as Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Naing from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) have not been heard from since they were arrested by the army on Monday.
The three reporters were returning from a drugs-burning ceremony organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) to mark the United Nations’ anti-drug trafficking day.
They are being held under the restrictive junta-era Unlawful Associations Act. This law has been used to punish journalists for being in contact with people deemed by authorities to be “harmful to rule of law and peace and stability” – a broad and subjective category.
In the course of their normal work, journalists must be able to speak and meet with a variety of people without fear of arrest or harassment — even those governments or security agencies may deem unsavory or hostile.
The TNLA is one of over a dozen ethnic minority armed groups who for decades have been fighting the central government. Journalists need to contact all parties in Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts if they are to tell the story properly. Most of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups are now involved in peace talks organised by the government.
Despite the recent election of a civilian government, Myanmar remains a hostile place for journalists to operate. Defamation suits and Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act have been increasingly used to thwart penetrating journalism or compel self-censorship.
The Myanmar military should release the three journalists in question, and the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi should set about reforming laws that inhibit good journalism in the public interest.
COMMENT: Access to Burma’s rebel armies, notable to the Karen National Liberation, Mon State, and Shan State armies has traditionally been through the Thai border. I have been many times. Seems like there is less fun day by day for journos in Burma and Thailand. Mind you the west has entered Burma with its usual business zeal even though the military is still repressing the country’s minorities.