The Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee in Canberra heard testimonies from government departments, diaspora groups and human rights organisations about both the impact of and Australia’s response to the military coup, examining ‘recent worrying developments in Myanmar in greater depth’. It was hosted by the Australian Parliament Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on April 13.
Jim Nolan, the pro-bono legal counsel for the IFJ in the Asia Pacific, made a range of recommendations, including to provide visas to journalists fleeing the country, while also providing relief and funding to journalists remaining in the region.
Australian community concern for the situation in Myanmar was evident in the presentations at the meeting, spurred by the rising violence and deaths of civilians, including children, and the targeting of human rights activists and journalists. The Australian government was criticised for its ‘lack of action’ with Labor MP Julian Hill describing the government’s response as “constipated” and slow.
At least 60 media workers have been arrested since the coup began on February 1, with at least five independent media organisations now banned and creating a vacuum of critical reporting in the country. While some media workers have since been released, many are facing criminal incitement charges which carry up to a three-year prison sentence. The military has employed section 505(a) of the Penal 1 Code to arrest journalist without a warrant, while making it a crime for journalists to publish statements critical of the military.
MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said: “MEAA is deeply concerned at the ongoing savagery directed at the people of Myanmar by the military junta. We are particularly concerned for our journalist colleagues who try to report, at enormous personal risk, what is taking place in their country to the Burmese people.”
The IFJ said: “We implore the Australian government to take a decisive role in opposing the grotesque human rights violations of the Myanmar military regime through diplomatic representations in international affairs and with the implementation of sanctions. We also need urgent support for journalist on the ground who are very much in peril.”