Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association (BMA) today voiced outrage at the arrest by military police on 17 July of four journalists with a Rangoon sports magazine, two of whom are still being held in an undisclosed location. The arrests came after the magazine ran an article on a Burmese football team’s absence from an Asian tournament.
Demanding the immediate release of the two journalists still held, the organisations said the arrests showed there was no room in Burma for any news reporting that challenged the will and the caprices of the generals in power. While the military junta maintains, without presenting any evidence, that dozens of prisoners have been released, the two organisations can only confirm that additional persons are being subjected to arbitrary arrest.
The arrests took place when military intelligence (MI) personnel raided the offices of the sports weekly First Eleven on 17 July. They handcuffed and detained chief editor U Zaw Thet Htwe and journalists Than Htut Aung, U Zaw Myint and Soe Pa Pa Hlaing. The editor, a former political prisoner who served a four-year sentence, was reportedly beaten. The military police then took all four away, without saying where.
A few hours later, soldiers arrested the wife of U Zaw Thet Htwe, who works for the privately-owned magazine Living Colour. She was released a few hours later, while Than Htut Aung and U Zaw Myint were released on 19 July. The other two journalists are still being held.
The arrests appear to have been prompted by an article in the magazine about a fine imposed by the organisers of the Asian Champion Club tournament on a Burmese football team for failing to participate. The magazine, which has a circulation of more than 50,000, previously received a warning after publishing an article about an international donation of 4 million dollars for the promotion of football in Burma. The article asked how the money was spent.
On 18 July, the day after the arrests, the military police summoned all of the magazine’s journalists and asked them to continue publishing the magazine while respecting the censorship rules.
Reporters Without Borders and the BMA oppose the lifting of any of the political and economic sanctions against the Burmese government until all political prisoners, including the 15 journalists, are released and censorship is abolished.