Editor, Activists Urge Release of Myanmar Journalists Arrested in Thailand After Fleeing Junta

Rights and press groups urge authorities not to deport the Democratic Voice of Burma reporters.

Editor, Activists Urge Release of Myanmar Journalists Arrested in Thailand After Fleeing Junta

Three Myanmar journalists arrested in Thailand after they fled a crackdown by the military junta should be set free because they would face severe punishment if they were deported back to Myanmar, their supervisor and human rights groups said Tuesday.

Police in Thailand’s northwestern city of Chiangmai arrested the three Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) journalists along with two political activists in a house in the city’s Sansai district on Sunday.

DVB began as an exile media organization prior to Myanmar’s democratic reforms, broadcasting uncensored news on TV and radio into the country before relocating there in 2012, a year after political changes in Myanmar began.

But the junta that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1 revoked DVB’s license in March, amid a crackdown on all independent media in Myanmar, driving the outlet’s journalists into hiding as they continued to broadcast news over satellite and through social media outlets.

The three DVB journalists who fled across the border had planned to continue their work from Thailand, their employer told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday.

“The Thai police arrested them during a surprise check, because they had no official travel documents,” said Aye Chan Naing, DVB’s executive director.

DVB had previously operated in Chiangmai before relocating to Myanmar, but this time reporters had to flee on short notice under pressure from the military regime.

“We didn’t just suddenly start up shop unannounced back then. We took the time to set up our base there and make sure of our security matters. But now, in this case, we have had to leave the country in a rush, so we had no time to make preparations,” he said.

“We were working there in Chiangmai for nearly 20 years. If we had had enough time to prepare and discuss with the Thai authorities, we wouldn’t be seeing these arrests,” he said.

Aye Chan Naing said that the three journalists took the step of quarantining for a 14-day period after they entered Thailand, and the only charge they face is illegal entry. If deported back to Myanmar they could face harsh punishment.

“We issued a statement today and have asked the Thai government not to hand them over to the military and to just send them to a safe place. We have asked the U.N. High Commission for Refugees office in Bangkok to ask the authorities not to deport our people back to Myanmar,” he said.

The five Myanmar nationals are being held in the Chiangmai central prison for investigation and they have legal representation, Chiangmai police on Tuesday told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

The five have pleaded not guilty to illegal entry and refused to provide information about themselves during a court hearing on Tuesday, Chiangmai Police Chief Tapanapong Chairangsi said.

“Those five men were charged under immigration law and the Thai landlord was charged with giving sanctuary to aliens. I believe they crossed illegally into the northern region about a year ago, but they moved to Chiangmai recently,” he added. 

It was not immediately clear why the police chief’s account contradicted DVB’s statement that the journalists had fled the military crackdown.

“Thai authorities concerned are coordinating to find humanitarian solution to the recent case of journalists from Myanmar,” said Tanee Sangrat, a spokesperson for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but he did not elaborate when asked for more information. 

A spokesman for Thai national police said investigators had 30 days to wrap up the five Myanmar nationals’ cases.

“Normally, a deportation is done only after a court ruling under immigration law. Police, however, will bring other factors into consideration whether to deport one or not,” spokesman Col. Krishna Pattanacharoen told reporters via a text message. “At the moment, we are not considering deporting them yet.”

‘Certain arrest and persecution’

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement urged Thailand to provide protection to the journalists, saying that if they were sent back, the junta would arrest and punish them.

“The junta’s hostile actions towards DVB were made clear when it revoked the DVB’s media license in March. Just last week, the junta criminalized ownership of satellite dishes, in part to prevent DVB’s satellite broadcasts from reaching the Burmese people,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.

“The Thai government should immediately release these five journalists and activists, allow UNHCR access to provide them with protection, and ensure they can remain temporarily in Thailand,” Adams said.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) said it was “seriously concerned” over the arrests.   

“These five individuals would face certain arrest and persecution, if not worse, for their work and association with the DVB, and under no circumstances should they be deported back to Myanmar.  Rather, the DVB journalists and their associates should be released from detention, urgently offered protection, and granted the right to remain temporarily in Thailand,” the FCCT said in a statement.

The statement noted that more than 70 journalists were among about 5,000 people arrested by the junta since the Feb. 1 coup, and most remain in detention. UNESCO says 71 have been arrested since Feb. 1.

The FCCT also cited the satellite ban as an example of the junta specifically targeting DVB and another outlet Mizzima News as it had been the primary method for both networks to broadcast in Myanmar.

“The world is watching what the Thai authorities do in this important case for press freedom in Myanmar and the region, and for the protection of those fleeing the junta’s brutal crackdown on independent media and civil society,” the FCCT said.

Reported by Aye Aye Mon for RFA’s Myanmar Service and BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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Protests, Armed Clashes Highlight Tensions on 100th Day Since Myanmar Coup

Analysts and activists talk of a “failed state” or “civil war” while citizens worry about eating.

Protests, Armed Clashes Highlight Tensions on 100th Day Since Myanmar Coup

Hundreds of protesters hit the streets of Myanmar’s largest city on Tuesday, the 100th day after the military seized power, flashing the three-finger salute of anti-junta defiance, while some analysts said the Southeast Asia nation was at risk of civil war or becoming a failed state.

Mass protests drawing hundreds of thousands in Yangon and other cities in the weeks after the Feb. 1 military putsch – which were met with army gunfire, killing nearly 800 civilians – have given way to smaller flash protests voicing opposition to the ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government.

But the State Administration Council (SAC), as the junta calls itself, also faces a determined Civil Disobedience Movement of striking workers, professionals, and civil servants that has crippled banking, business and government activities across the complex, multi-ethnic country of 54 million people. A shadow government of former ministers and respected ethnic leaders was launched in mid-April and is trying to form an army.

Away from the cities, the feared Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s armed forces, one of Southeast Asia’s strongest militaries – is taking casualties from ragtag local militias with homemade hunting rifles, and from well-equipped ethnic armies that have been fighting the central government for more autonomy for decades.

“Myanmar is heading toward a full-blown civil war and becoming a failed state,” said a prominent political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity for his personal safety.

“I think the armed conflicts will intensify soon. Business will completely shut down. The country is almost collapsing,” he added.

The death toll since the Feb. 1 coup reached 783 as of Tuesday, while 3859 civilians have been arrested or charged, according to a Thailand-based NGO called the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

With as many as 75 percent of nearly 20,000 government medical workers now joining the CDM,  state-owned hospitals and local clinics are shut down, and the military has said some hospitals are still operational with army doctors and nurses.

Education is also paralyzed, with about 80 percent of educational staff staying off the job in support of the CDM, and only ten percent of students, most opposed to the junta, having returned to school as the school year resumes.

The “coup d'etat has succeeded, but it is not successful,” Yangon-based journalist Sithu Aung Myint told RFA. “They cannot calm down the country in the face of people’s widespread protests.”

“The military council is trying to force its departments to be operational, but they are not operational,” added Sithu Aung Myint.

Fear and hunger

Fear and hunger haunt many people in Yangon, which had already been on lockdown for many months in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“It has been 100 days. I feel unsafe in my own home. I feel the same way when I am going out,” said a Yangon housewife. “In terms of livelihood, I have no income at all.”

She told RFA that 30,000 kyats (U.S. $19) used to buy groceries for a week, but now stretches only three days.

“Our lives are difficult, and the situation makes it hard for me to go out and work,” she said.  “I don’t want to live under military rule.”

The Asian Development Bank says the coup has shrunk GDP by 10 percent, the U.N. World Food Programme says that 3.4 million urban residents could go hungry in the next six months, and the U.N. Development Program warns that junta rule and the COVID-19 pandemic together could drive nearly half the population into poverty in 2022.

Families in and around the commercial center and former capital Yangon, home to 7.3 million people, were “skipping meals, eating less nutritious food and taking on debt to feed themselves” after losing jobs and incomes, a recent U.N. report said.

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun has not answered RFA telephone calls for weeks, while Nandar Hla Myint, spokesman for the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development, declined to comment.

But Thein Tun Oo of Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a pro-military think tank made up retired military officers, said “the military has handled the unrest calmly and steadfastly, although the protestors have been engaging in violence and provoking the authorities in many ways.”

“There is no chance that the situation will develop into a civil war. It is more likely that there will be war against terror,” the analyst said, echoing junta accusations against the protest movement, without offering supporting evidence.

Some hours before the army pundit offered his optimistic view, however, three junta soldiers were killed and at least 10 others were injured in a shootout Monday night with the local People's Defense Force in Sagaing division. The northwestern Myanmar region bordering India is where dozens of security forces have been reported killed by local fighters with homemade hunting rifles since March.

“No civilians were injured but three died and about 10 wounded on their side during the incident,” said a resident of Sagaing’s Taze town, describing a half-hour-long clash.

Monks protest in Mandalay on the 100th day since the coup, May 11, 2021. Credit: Citizen journalist.

Cheering for ethnic armies

In Kachin state, in far northern Myanmar, the junta faced opponents with far bigger guns Tuesday, as local residents reported fresh clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the many ethnic armed organizations operating in the country’s border regions.

“We could hear the explosions of heavy weapons since morning. The fighting died down around 10 a.m. and just now around 12 noon, a jet flew overhead and dropped some bombs,” said a resident of the town of Mansi, areas around which were evacuated.

The fighting in Kachin state, which borders China, has intensified since the KIA captured a junta military camp in April. On Friday, local witnesses said 30 regime troops were killed when the junta tried to retake the camp, but RFA was unable to confirm the figures.

Similar reports emerged this week of high casualties from intensified fighting in Kayin state in eastern Myanmar near the Thai border. Fighters from the Karen National Union killed 11 troops of the pro-military Karen Border Guard Force on Sunday, according to local witnesses.

The KNU says there have been 407 clashes between KNU and junta or supporting forces since the coup on Feb 1, with 104 people killed and 216 wounded. RFA could not confirm the casualties.

Tay Zar San, an anti-coup protest leader in Mandalay, said the only upside to 100 days of junta rule has been increased understanding between the majority Bamar (Burmese) people and ethnic minority groups. Bamars, who make up two-thirds of the country’s population, are now on the receiving end of military brutality.

“Ethnic groups like Karen, Kachin and Shan have been fighting against the military regime for the last 70 years. Now, we Bamars have gotten a better understanding about their fight,” he told RFA.

Human rights activist Nicky Diamond agreed, saying that the military has seen its popular support fall “down to zero” since the coup, when in the past fights against ethnic armies had some backing in the Burmese heartland.

“The people are now supporting their enemy ethnic armed groups instead. They are happy when the military troops lose battles or their outposts are captured by the ethnic armed groups,” said Diamond.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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