The Myanmar government has been accused of persecuting journalists by a Paris-based human rights organisation that has also called for the release of five detained journalists.
The accusation was made by the International Federation of Human Rights, known by its French acronym as FIDH, in a statement released ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
The statement was issued jointly with an FIDH member organisation, the Bangkok-based Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma.
“The increasing persecution of journalists under President Thein Sein is reminiscent of the ways in which the military junta behaved under Senior General Than Shwe,” FIDH president KarimLihidji, said in the statement, released on May 2.
He called on the international community to exert renewed pressure on the government to prevent the further deterioration of freedom of expression in Myanmar.
The statement said charges laid in Pyay on April 26 against a Mizzima reporter were the latest in a series of events that showed that “media repression” had increased in Myanmar.
The reporter, Ko Yae Khe, was charged over his role in organising a protest that called for greater press freedom and the release of the five journalists.
The statement named the five journalists as Democratic Voice of Burma video journalist, U Zaw Pe, and four reporters with Unity Weekly journal, Ko Lu Maw Naing, Ko Yarzar Oo, Ko Paing Thet Kyaw and Ko Sithu Soe.
On April 7, a court in Magway sentenced U Zaw Pe to prison for a year on charges of trespassing and disturbing a civil servant on duty over an interview he conducted in a government building.
The four Unity Weekly reporters and the journal’s chief executive officer have been in custody for three months after being charged with breaching the colonial-era 1923 Official Secrets Act over a January 25 report claiming that the military was making chemical weapons at a factory in Pauk Township, Magway Division.
Their trial began at a court in Pakokku on March 17 and if convicted they could face up to 14 years in prison, the statement said.
“If President Thein Sein’s administration is serious about pursuing democratic reforms, it must immediately and unconditionally release all five detained journalists,” said ALTSEAN-Burma coordinator and FIDH secretary-general Debbie Stothard.
“The authorities must cease all acts of harassment against the media and allow journalists to do their job without hindrance, obstruction or intimidation,” Ms Stothard said.
The statement noted that a Printing and Publishing Law adopted by parliament on March 4 authorises the Information Ministry to grant and revoke publishing licenses and bans the publication of material that “insults” religion, undermines the “rule of law” or harms ethnic unity.