BANGKOK — Journalists at The Irrawaddy have vowed to keep reporting despite Myanmar’s junta last week announcing a ban on the media outlet.
The military council said via state media on October 29 that The Irrawaddy is to be banned and its license revoked for damaging “state security, rule of law and public tranquility” through its coverage.
The Irrawaddy responded to the decision via its own website, saying the announcement is the first time the military has “publicly acknowledge its efforts to clamp down on The Irrawaddy.”
The media outlet said it has weathered a “series of lawsuits, raids, arrests and other moves” since the 2021 military coup.
Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of the outlet’s English-language section, told VOA via email that the news site will continue despite the setback.
The Irrawaddy and other outlets moved outside of Myanmar earlier “after the junta raided our offices and revoked publishing licenses,” Kyaw Zwa Moe said.
But he added, “Wherever we are, we can still provide our readership across the world with accurate, insightful, in-depth and analytical stories. That’s the mission we journalists in The Irrawaddy strive for every day, without compromising our journalism ethics and editorial stand.”
Founded nearly 30 years ago by a team mostly living in exile in Thailand, the publication is known for its breaking news and investigative reporting in both Burmese and English.
But pressure on the news outlet has been constant since the coup.
Shortly after the junta removed and arrested the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the military blocked access to The Irrawaddy’s website inside Myanmar. Authorities have raided its offices in Yangon and sued the news outlet over its reporting on anti-government protests.
In August 2022, a court sentenced former Irrawaddy photojournalist Ko Zaw Zaw to three years in prison for incitement.
The junta has revoked licenses for at least 12 other media outlets, including the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), one of Myanmar’s largest independent media organizations.
Dozens of journalists have been detained or fled into exile since the takeover.
Myanmar’s military council has denied targeting media, telling VOA on several occasions that any journalists detained or arrested are not targeted for their work but because of terrorist-related activities or instigation of unrest.
Most journalists to be detained are held on charges under Section 505A, a new provision of Myanmar’s Penal Code law that criminalizes “causing fear, spreading fake news or agitating crimes against the government.”
Kyaw Zwa Moe said that reporting in Myanmar brings significant risks.
“Generally, journalists can’t work or report independently inside Myanmar. Since the coup last year, most journalists left the country to evade arbitrary arrests and torture because the junta raided most independent media houses, revoked their licenses and targeted journalists.
“The current situation for journalists under this military regime is the worst ever if compared to that even under the previous military regimes over the past decades,” he said, adding, “Myanmar is the world’s second biggest [jailer] of journalists since the coup last year.”
Zee Pe, director of the free expression activism group ATHAN, told VOA via email the country is in the “dark age” of repression.
“Reporters on the ground are facing unsafe physical and mental [risks] in their daily life,” Zee Pe said, adding that the continual arrests of journalists and raids on their newsrooms and homes have forced many to flee to other parts of Myanmar.
“Some reporters choose areas under the control of ethnic armed organizations or flee abroad to ensure sustaining their journalism professions and careers,” Zee Pe said, adding that the “military regime violates journalistic rights and fundamental civil rights.”
According to Athan research, over 170 journalists have been arrested since February 2021.
Of those, 77 are still detained, Zee Pe said.
Analysts described the period after the coup as Myanmar’s “most oppressive year” for media.
Myanmar ranks 176 out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index, where 1 has the best media environment.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, says conditions in the country have “gone from bad to worse to horrific for untold numbers.”
Andrews told the Human Rights Council in September that 1.3 million people are displaced, 28,000 homes haven been destroyed, villages burned to the ground, and more than 13,000 children killed.
Everyday citizens and opposition voices are also under pressure. As of Friday, data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group run by Burmese in Thailand, shows at least 2,413 people killed by the junta since February 2021, and more than 16,000 arrested. Of those, 12,879 are still detained.
Source: Voice of America