Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association (BMA) have called for the immediate release of Saw Myint Than, chief reporter on the privately-owned magazine Flower News Journal who was arrested after writing an article about the murder of a couple.
Police arrested Saw Myint Than, aged 30, on 1st September 2008 then placed him in custody under the electronic telecommunications law.
“The article that led to Saw Myint Than’s arrest had been checked by the military censorship bureau, so we cannot understand why he is being hounded by the Rangoon police,” the worldwide press freedom organisation and the BMA said.
“Their objection seems to be that he made email contact with Burmese living abroad. We fear that yet again a Burmese journalist is being arrested and tried without access to a proper defence, simply for having covered an event,” the two organisations said.
The latest arrest brings to 12 the number of journalists and bloggers currently being held in Burma’s jails.
Police at the Kyauktada arrested Saw Myint Than on 1st September. A few days beforehand, on 26 August, he had been summoned by police over his article about the murder of a couple. He was manhandled and threatened by a police officer who told him that he had the power to arrest him and to close down the newspaper.
The report on the murder had however been passed by the military censorship bureau. Saw Myint Than was summoned again on the following day but the editor refused to let him go in order to protect him. But several sources said the management of Flower News Journal subsequently sacked him under official pressure.
A journalist in Rangoon told the two organisations that Saw Myint Than was being held under the Electronics Law that regulates emails and under an article in the criminal code that punishes criticism of the authorities. Police who are holding him in solitary confinement at the station in Kyauktada also apparently acted because he had been in contact with Burmese organisations abroad. After his summons, he answered questions put to him by a journalist on Irrawaddy.org, based in Thailand.
In another case, the Censorship Bureau has banned all coverage of demonstrations taking place in Thailand. According to the website Irrawaddy.org, the local version of US cable channel CNN, put out by Family Entertainment, a release from the information ministry has also been stripped of all news about the situation in Thailand. The current head of the Thai government has voiced support for Burma’s military junta and said that international talks on the future of the country should be held without Aung San Suu Kyi.