World Bulletin / News Desk
A spate of arrests of journalists is undermining recent advances in press freedoms in Myanmar, the U.S. group Human Rights Watch has warned.
In a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day, the group’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said Saturday that new laws and the intimidation of journalists were preventing the country’s democratic reform process from progressing.
He added that “serious backsliding” on media reforms “raises concerns about the government’s commitment to a free press.”
The group called on the government to end “arbitrary arrests” of journalists and to amend “oppressive” media laws.
In 2012, Myanmar’s government freed 14 journalists from prison and ended pre-publication press censorship, a move that won international praise as the country began emerging from over 50 years of military rule.
But there has since been a renewed clampdown. In the last five months, at least six journalists have been arrested or sentenced as part of what HRW says are “apparently politically motivated prosecutions.”
They include Ma Khine, a reporter with the Eleven Daily newspaper, who in December became the first journalist to be imprisoned under president Thein Sein’s reformist government.
She was jailed for trespassing, using abusive language, and defamation after visiting a lawyer’s house to interview her for a story on corruption.
The lawyer asked Ma Khine to leave after becoming annoyed at her questions and then filed a lawsuit against her, Daily Eleven editor Wai Phyo said at the time of the sentencing.
Wai Phyo also believes the judge handed down a three month sentence, rather than just a fine, in an attempt to intimidate the press.
In January, four journalists and the CEO of the Unity Journal were arrested after the newspaper published a story on an alleged chemical weapons factory. The five are still on trial and could each face up to 14 years in jail on charges of trespassing and revealing state secrets.
HRW also warned that “vague” new press laws introduced in March “could intimidate editors to curtail investigative journalism and reporting on sensitive topics.”
The Printers and Publishers Registration Law gives Myanmar’s Ministry of Information sweeping powers to revoke press licenses if publishers are deemed to have breached loosely defined rules such as disturbing the rule of law or insulting religion.
Foreign reporters working in Myanmar have also seen new freedoms curtailed this year. In February the government brought in regulations that limit how long foreign journalists are allowed to stay in the country. Some had their visas reduced from one month to one week, said HRW.
In March a journalist who worked on a Time magazine cover story about Buddhist extremism in Myanmar was denied a visa. The issue, published last year, sparked street protests and was taken off shelves across the country.
Activists in other southeast Asia countries also tackled the subject of press freedoms on Saturday. In Cambodia, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights stated: “A free, independent and pluralistic press is a vital pillar of democracy, and freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. Democracy cannot be achieved without freedom of expression and an independent media that is able to raise questions, criticize, and open the space for debate and dialogue."
Since Cambodia’s transition to democracy in 1992, there have been at least 11 reported killings of journalists and media workers who expressed criticism of the country's government.
“The gag on Cambodian journalists is stifling democracy and human rights in Cambodia,” Ou Virak added.
Cambodia numbered 132 out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Myanmar ranked 145, Thailand - where the lese majeste law and Computer Crime Act have long been criticized for trampling on freedom of expression - registered 130, while southeast Asian neighbor Malaysia came in at a historic low of 147.
A Freedom House Press Freedom Report for the year 2013 categorized Malaysia as “not free," giving it a “downward trend arrow” due to what it termed “rampant electoral fraud and structural obstacles to block the opposition from winning power.”
Using alternative sources to firewood as opened the path for one Kenyan factory to reduce energy costs and save the environment
A vaccine developed by researchers has shown promising results with a trial tests showing 100% protection against Ebola
Low lying areas in the Sundarbans region has forced many mothers to join fathers away from home to work, leaving little choice for their children but to take refuge in hostels away from family.
World Wildlife Fund communications manager says plan could come to fruition by 2020, but depends on final gov’t approval
Meteorologists expect El Nino effects to delay the rainy season as dry conditions force locals to pray for rain
Hawaii has become the first American state to ban the use of plastic bags.
Gene therapy for cystic fibrosis has for the first time shown slight but significant benefit on lung function, new British research reveals.
A new study has determined that soda drinks are responsible for more than 184,000 deaths with nearly 80% occurring in low to middle income countries
The plight of these urban areas show how dire the coming global freshwater shortage could get.
Coin-sized band analyzes blood glucose levels and releases insulin when needed
A WHO report has found that the use of lindane and DDT are linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Pope Francis has said that the emissions trading is a ploy to allow wealthy emitters to continue their work
Russian sewerage dump is responsible for declining fish stock in the Baltic seas.
A new cancer drug will be tested as part of a joint effort by AstraZeneca and Lilly.
Smart technology and regulation will aid challenges in global power sector, helping to lower the carbon emitted globally.
A deal between the richest nations in the world has been seen as unlikely, as OECD seeks to phase out export credits.