In a meeting on June 17, SEAJU leaders and activists from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Timor Leste discussed the dire decline in media freedom in the South East Asian nation since February 1. The SEAJU network was unanimous in its support for Myanmar’s independent media as critical human rights defenders and strongly condemns the Myanmar military’s ongoing attacks on media.
SEAJU notes that Burmese journalists are being hunted by armed soldiers and police for simply doing their job. Paid informants continue to intimidate and spy on journalists and journalists’ family members are being harassed and threatened. Media workers homes have also been raided and broken into in the months since the military takeover – with at least 87 journalists arrested and three jailed.
"Independent media organisations have been systematically purged since the coup began on February 1. So too, the licenses of multiple news outlets were revoked and their offices were raided on March 8,” SEAJU said. “To stop journalists, photographers and activists sending reports and images of security forces abusing and killing civilians, military coup leaders have ordered telecommunication companies and internet services to shut down social media platforms to silence critical reporting.
SEAJU said the military’s State Administration Council was using Section 505(a) of the Penal Code to arrest journalists without a warrant. Section 505(a) makes it a crime for journalists to publish statements critical of the military. As a result, scores of journalists and their family members have been forced into deep hiding, others have fled to border areas under the control of ethnic armed organizations for their safety.
In the meeting, SEAJU leaders discussed the dire financial situation faced by many Burmese journalists since the coup began and the ensuing closure of media outlets.
SEAJU said: “Without the financial support of independent media outlets, getting paid work has been difficult to find and many journalists took the tough decision to keep reporting, despite fear of arrest and of having internet and phone restrictions imposed on them. Despite losing their paid work Myanmar, to do so, many have had to sell hard-to-replace cameras, drones, go-pros and computers.”
In the joint statement SEAJU demands: “Myanmar’s State Administration Council drop all charges against journalists and stop using section 505(a) of the penal code to jail journalists for doing their job. SEAJU also urges the governments of Thailand, India, Bangladesh and China to honor their international humanitarian obligations and to allow journalists and citizens fleeing persecution, torture and possible death, to be given safe refuge.”
The IFJ and SEAJU said: “We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Myanmar as vital human rights defenders in need of protection in this volatile space. We call on the military authorities to respect freedom of the press and to allow journalists and news organisations to go about their work without interference, threat or attack. The people of Myanmar are best served by the truth, not its suppression.”