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Myanmar's Junta Arrests More Journalists

A portion of the homepage of Dawei Watch, an independent news site in Myanmar.

Three journalists at Dawei Watch, an independent news website in Myanmar, were arrested this week on unspecified charges, an editor at the publication said.

The editor, who asked to remain anonymous for his own safety, said the arrests occurred Tuesday and Wednesday in the southern city of Dawei, where the website is based. He said the reason for the arrests remained unclear.

"Family members were allowed to send food and medicine. We do not know what will happen next," the editor told VOA Burmese. "Families were not allowed to sit down and talk with them — just to look at them."

The journalist said none of those detained showed signs of being beaten. "They are fine and stable, according to family members," he said.

The first to be arrested was Moe Myint. The 35-year-old journalist, who has three children, was detained Tuesday. Two of her colleagues, journalist Ko Zaw and web designer Thar Gyi, were arrested the following day.

Respect, but with rules

The junta has said that it respects the role of media but will not allow reporting that is false or incites unrest.

"There is no reason to arrest, charge or jail media personnel if they do their media job," military spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun told VOA Burmese recently.

He said that foreign and local journalists are working in Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay and that journalists are invited to press briefings.

"They can freely move," Zaw Min Tun said. "However, if those media personnel encourage or instigate or involve in terrorist's activities, action would be taken as criminals, as I have said it before."

FILE - This handout photo taken and released by Dawei Watch on July 6, 2021, shows protesters taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar.
FILE - This handout photo taken and released by Dawei Watch on July 6, 2021, shows protesters taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar.

The Dawei Watch editor has called for his colleagues to be released.

"It is getting worse for journalists being arrested like this," he said. "The main thing is that all of our reporters have the right to report on what is really happening on the ground."

Opposition activists in Dawei have come under pressure. In late December, more than 30 people, including student activists, were sentenced to prison, some for up to 19 years, according to local reports.

Media crackdown

Since seizing power in a coup in February 2021, the junta has revoked broadcast licenses and arrested dozens of journalists. At least one journalist died in military custody in December, and two others have been killed.

One of those, Khonumthung Media Group founder Pu Tuidim, had fled to neighboring India from Chin state but was arrested when he returned. His body was found on January 9, two days after being taken by the military, along with those of nine others, according to reports.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the recent deaths of journalists as "a sign of the absolutely unacceptable practices increasingly employed by the junta."

"We appeal to the international community to toughen the sanctions imposed on the junta's members in order to end this headlong escalation in terror," RSF Asia-Pacific desk head Daniel Bastard said in a statement.

At least 115 journalists have been detained since the February 1 coup, with 44 still behind bars, according to Reporting ASEAN, a Southeast Asia media advocacy group.

The Dawei Watch editor defended the work of the news website's staff.

"Our reporters are not doing anything wrong. They are doing their job covering the ground situation," he said.

Khin Soe Win contributed to this report, which originated in ​VOA's Burmese Service. Some information is from Reuters.