A number of international human rights groups and media watchdog organisations condemned the Burma government for jailing five journalists for allegedly exposing states secrets.
In a strongly worded media release the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) “condemns the arrest and continuing detainment of five Burmese journalists following the publication of a story alleging a Burmese military facility was producing chemical weapons.”
The International Federation of Journalists said the government arrested five journalists from the Rangoon based newspaper, Unity Weekly News, and charged them with breaching the 1923 Burma State Secrets Act.
Radio Free Asia reported that the journalists were arrested the Unity Weekly News published on its front page a story “claiming that chemical weapons were being manufactured at a facility in Pauk township, in Myanmar’s Magway region, under the orders of former military junta leader Than Shwe.”
Matthew Smith, the executive director of the human rights group, Fortify Rights told Karen News that the government still has a “long way to go to protect press freedoms. It’s not that this is a page out of the previous junta’s handbook, it’s a page out of the current government’s handbook. Rather than intimidate journalists and their families, the authorities should learn to take criticism from the media and should come to understand that a free press is a matter of basic human rights and in the public interest.”
The International Federation of Journalists quoted its “affiliate, the Myanmar Journalist Association (MJA), “that the arrests are a clear example of how an 80-year-old law was still being used to silence journalists in the new media landscape.”
The MJA’s joint secretary said that the arrest of the journalists “threaten journalists in our media industry and may seriously affect freedom of expression.”
Burma’s four press associations joined forces to issue a joint media statement stating that the government’s heavy-handed actions compared to those of the country’s previous military regime. The statement from the Myanmar Journalist Union, Myanmar Journalist Network, Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association and Pen Myanmar said.
“We submit that holding the [Pauk] Township-based journalist first, then charging him later, and holding the CEO for more than 24 hours without pressing any charges, is behavior in the same vein of the former military regime.”
Journalists working Burma told Karen News that the government has taken the “offending edition of Unity Weekly News editions off the newsstands.”
The International Federation of Journalists said that the governments actions are a throwback to the, “development for the fourth estate in Myanmar – it seems murky tactics of intimidation have replaced the censorship board.”