An eye on re­gional af­fairs

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - Colin Meyn

The con­tin­ued de­ten­tion of three re­porters who were ar­rested while cov­er­ing an event in June hosted by an armed eth­nic group has sent a clear mes­sage that press free­dom re­mains ten­u­ous in Myan­mar. Kyaw Zwa Moe, edi­tor of the Ir­rawaddy mag­a­zine, whose re­porter Lawi Weng is among the jailed trio, dis­cusses the ‘in­vis­i­ble line’ that still ex­ists for jour­nal­ists in the coun­try

What do you be­lieve mo­ti­vated these ar­rests?

The mil­i­tary doesn’t like our crit­i­cal re­port­ing, not only on the eth­nic ar­eas but re­port­ing on the mil­i­tary and other in­sti­tu­tions and pow­er­ful peo­ple. So our re­porter and two re­porters from DVB [Demo­cratic Voice of Burma] went to north­ern Burma to cover is­sues over there be­cause of the war, and they were ar­rested. My take on the ar­rests is they just wanted to send a mes­sage to all of the re­porters say­ing that “You guys should be care­ful when you re­port about us”. The mes­sage is you have to im­pose self-cen­sor­ship.

Do you think it will be ef­fec­tive?

We never do that, but we have to be very care­ful be­cause there are still op­pres­sive laws – out­dated laws from the Bri­tish era in our coun­try, like the Un­law­ful As­so­ci­a­tions Act with which the mil­i­tary charged our re­porters. The mil­i­tary or any­one can turn to these laws if they re­ally want to ar­rest a jour­nal­ist. I think there is an in­vis­i­ble line in front of us – we can­not cross the line, but we can­not see it ei­ther.

Is Aung San Suu Kyi, the coun­try’s de facto leader, try­ing to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion?

To be hon­est, I don’t know what she was do­ing, [or] whether she can help in terms of the ar­rest of our re­porters. But what she said to the me­dia right af­ter the ar­rests is that the case is be­tween the mil­i­tary and the re­porters, and she sug­gested we look at the en­tire sit­u­a­tion, which means there are op­pres­sive laws that are sup­posed to be amended and re­pealed in the near fu­ture. But what I un­der­stand is she can­not tell the mil­i­tary to re­lease the re­porters right away; she can­not tell the mil­i­tary not to ar­rest re­porters in the fu­ture.

Over­all, would you say the sit­u­a­tion for jour­nal­ists is get­ting bet­ter?

Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, high-rank­ing of­fi­cials are more will­ing to talk to me­dia, but they don’t have enough in­for­ma­tion to pro­vide us – some­times they have no idea. Com­pared to the past, it is get­ting bet­ter, but I wouldn’t say I’m very sat­is­fied with the sit­u­a­tion. –

Kyaw Zwa Moe, edi­tor of the Ir­rawaddy, at his of­fice in Yan­gon

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