Myanmar charges three journalists for meeting rebels: Is ASSK who we think she is?

The arrests of three journalists in Myanmar have shown Aung San Suu Kyi’s true colours – human rights preserver or violator?

by Oliver Ward

Aung San Suu Kyi’s interest in giving the voiceless a voice has waned. In a blatant erosion on press freedom, Myanmar charged three journalists for reporting on an armed ethnic group. The journalists are in Hsipaw Prison in Shan State awaiting their fate.

The trio were charged under the Unlawful Associations Act. This is the same act the junta used to silence journalists and critics. They face up to three years in prison. They were arrested after attending a drugs-burning ceremony with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

Aung San Suu Kyi is turning her back on the institutions that helped her come to power

Among the journalists on trial is a reporter from the Irrawaddy and two reporters from DVB Multimedia Group. These organizations were founded in exile from foreign backing. They conducted underground investigations under the old military junta. They also published subversive articles which helped generate support for Aung San Suu Kyi while she was in exile.

Members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s own circle have even defended the charges. Win Htein, who spent almost 20 years in exile herself, said “they broke the law by going to meet ethnic groups”, adding “the government should take action”.

The Suu Kyi government are arresting journalists under the same laws the junta used against them when they were in opposition.

The arrests undermine press freedom and economic growth in Myanmar

Not only do the arrests undermine Suu Kyi’s commitment to freedom of expression, they also undermine her progress towards economic growth. Curbing the freedom of the press limits the ability of journalists to report on mismanagement, illegal business practices and corruption.

In November of 2016, Than Htut Aung and Wai Phyo of Eleven Media Group and the Daily Eleven newspaper were arrested under Myanmar’s Telecommunication law. The pair had published a piece on high-level government corruption. Their trial is still in progress.

Without free press, Myanmar’s ability to remove barriers which are counterproductive to doing business is severely mitigated.

Since she came to power, 61 cases of defamation have been filed under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunication Law.  Nine of the cases have involved journalists.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to maintaining a free press is clearly nothing more than empty promises and smoke screens.

The arrests are in breach of human rights

Her commitment to upholding human rights should also be questioned. Section 376 of the Constitution says that “no person shall be held in custody for more than 24 hours without being remanded by a competent magistrate”.

The arrest of the journalists is in clear violation of this section of the constitution. Nyan Win, the spokesperson for the National League of Democracy (NLD) said “the accused should have certain rights in accordance with the law”.

The international organization, The Committee to Protect Journalists, have condemned the arrests in Myanmar. They called on Burma to “immediately drop all criminal proceedings against three journalists charged with defamation”.

Aung San Suu Kyi promised to give a voice to the masses. She has clearly turned her back on those she vowed to help. Instead, she is arresting those who do offer a voice to the downtrodden.

The arrests demonstrate how much is left to do before Burma reaches democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi is ruling the country somewhere in between military rule and a real democracy. She took power on a platform of upholding human rights in the country. Her handling of this arrest has shown her true colours. She came into power in sheep’s clothing, but has been exposed as a wolf, just like her predecessors.