Fears for 3 journalists arrested by military in Shan State

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — Three Myanmar journalists detained by the military in northern Shan State have not made contact with their newsrooms since shortly after their arrests on Monday and their current whereabouts are unknown, Frontier has learned.

Senior reporter for The Irrawaddy Ko Lawi Weng, also known as Thein Zaw, and DVB reporters Ko Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Bone Aung, were arrested along with four others in Namhsan Township on Monday afternoon.

The trio had been travelling back from a ceremony organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

A Monday statement from the office of military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said soldiers had pulled over the car carrying the reporters towards Hsipaw and arrested them on suspicion of contact with the TNLA, which it deemed a “terrorist group” that was “harming rule of law and peace and stability”.

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The statement appeared to suggest the possibility that the trio would be charged under the Unlawful Associations Act, which has been regularly used against individuals in contact with non-state armed groups, and which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

No further information about the identity of the other four detainees has come to light.

Sources at The Irrawaddy said that Lawi Weng was able to make contact with his superiors early on Monday evening, but declined to discuss the nature of the phone call.

Regarded as one of Myanmar’s best conflict reporters, Lawi Weng has made numerous trips to TNLA territory in recent years without incident, including a 2015 journey to report on the armed group’s opium eradication and drug rehabilitation activities.

Subsequent attempts at contacting the reporters have been unsuccessful. Despite a news report in state media and the commander-in-chief’s office announcing the trio had been transferred to police custody in Lashio, their location was unclear Tuesday.

Frontier made several unsuccessful attempts to seek comment from military spokesmen Maj-Gen Soe Naing Oo and Maj-Gen Aung Ye Win. Officers from the Lashio police station also could not be reached for comment.

U Toe Zaw Latt, the Myanmar bureau chief for DVB, said he was unable to fathom why the trio had been arrested, given the TNLA had been extended an official invitation to the government’s most recent peace conference in May.

“Reporters do their work. They went there at the invitation of TNLA,” he told Frontier. “Although they went to the rebels’ territory, the TNLA was invited to attend the 21st Century Panglong conference. I don’t know why it is a crime to communicate with them.”

James Gomez, the Asia-Pacific director for Amnesty International, characterized the arrests as a “crude attempt” by the military to intimidate journalists covering the protracted conflict in northern Shan State.

“These journalists must be immediately and unconditionally released, and allowed to resume their work freely and without fear,” he said. “Their arrests send a chilling message to Myanmar’s already embattled media.”

Additional reporting by Sean Gleeson in Yangon.

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