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3 Myanmar Journalists Are Arrested After Government Officials Complain


Three journalists at the largest private newspaper in Myanmar have been arrested. This came after government officials complained about their reporting. On Monday, the paper published a story about government spending and no-bid contracts by the local government, which is headed by a political ally of Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Here's reporter Michael Sullivan.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Two senior editors and the paper's chief reporter at Eleven Media were detained for violating Section 505 of Myanmar's colonial-era penal code, which prohibits publishing information that may cause fear or alarm to the public or disrupt public tranquillity. It's hard to see how the newspaper's story on public spending by the Yangon government fits either description. Critics say it's the latest attempt by government officials to muzzle Myanmar's independent journalists.

PHIL ROBERTSON: What it indicates is that the Myanmar government sees the media as the enemy. It sees an independent press as a threat to the ability of the National League for Democracy to run the government as it wants, when it wants, without any sort of information provided to the public.

SULLIVAN: Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

ROBERTSON: This is a situation, frankly, where people are using national security laws to shut down corruption investigations. I mean, we're really going back to a time when the dictatorships of past military regimes controlled everything that the people saw and heard. And Aung San Suu Kyi should be ashamed of herself that she is just standing by while this is happening.

SULLIVAN: The arrests came just a few weeks after two Reuters reporters were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act while investigating the massacre of 12 Muslim minority Rohingya. The trial, which saw a police captain testify that the two journalists had been set up, was widely condemned by the international community. But Aung San Suu Kyi defended the verdict at a recent World Economic Forum meeting in Vietnam.


STATE COUNSELLOR AUNG SAN SUU KYI: They were not jailed because they were journalists. They were jailed because the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act. So if we believe in the rule of law, they have every right to appeal the judgment and to point out why the judgment is wrong if they consider it wrong.

SULLIVAN: Suu Kyi's government is becoming increasingly isolated because of the violent crackdown on the Muslim minority Rohingya by Myanmar's military, which both the U.S. and the U.N. have called ethnic cleansing. A U.N. fact-finding team last month recommended that Myanmar's military commander and other top officers be prosecuted on charges of genocide.

Myanmar continues to deny the allegations. And Suu Kyi continues to ask the international community to be patient with her country as it tries to develop economically and make the transition to full democratic rule. Yesterday's arrests won't help her case. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Mai Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.